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Understanding Federal Conspiracy Charges

What Is a Federal Conspiracy?

Federal conspiracy is an agreement between at least two people who intend to commit a crime or engage in illegal acts that violate federal law.

It is one of the most common criminal charges a person can face in the U. S, and yet it is one of the most difficult to defend. This is because, unlike other criminal cases, the prosecutor does not need to prove that a crime was committed. All they need to do is establish that those charged had an agreement to commit a federal crime, which they intended to execute.

Based on this position, federal prosecutors often bring conspiracy charges against suspects to enable them to secure a conviction when they may not have enough evidence to prove that the primary crime was committed. The problem with this approach is that people who may have had simple conversations with others about doing something illegal without more may be dragged in if one of them goes on to commit a federal crime.

If you or your loved one is facing federal conspiracy charges, you risk going to jail or paying hefty fines or both if convicted. You’ll need to fight your case and defend yourself if you hope to escape those penalties.

The experienced Criminal Defense Lawyers at Hirsch Law Group can defend you and help you achieve the best possible outcome in your case. In the meantime, we explain how federal conspiracy charges work to help you understand what you are up against and why a robust defense is paramount.

Elements of Federal Conspiracy Charges

Title 18 Section 371 of the U.S. Code is the general federal conspiracy statute. According to the law, anyone who conspires or agrees with another to commit an offense against or defraud the United States government or any federal government agency is guilty of conspiracy if any of those involved take steps to actualize their plans.

This definition has several elements, and the prosecutors must prove each to secure a conspiracy conviction. Conversely, the absence of one or more elements can help you defend yourself during your trial, which is why we’ve highlighted them as follows:

Agreement Between Two or More Persons

By their nature, conspiracy charges must involve more than one person who may be charged jointly or separately, depending on the circumstances. A conspiracy charge cannot exist if only one person is involved in the criminal plot. 

The agreement here does not mean that the parties involved sat down to a meeting and drew up a plan for their proposed illegal acts. The conspirators do not even need to know each other. However, it is enough for the prosecution to show that they all had a general understanding of their goals regardless of their physical proximity to each other.

Agreement To Commit a Federal Crime

The prosecution in a federal conspiracy case must establish that the defendant agreed with another to break federal law or commit any offense against the federal government or its agencies.

If the act complained of is not a crime under federal law, but under state law, then it would not qualify as federal conspiracy. Instead, it would be charged and prosecuted by the state where the crime was committed.  

Intentional Participation in the Conspiracy

Conversations with friends about doing something illegal could lead to a conspiracy charge. However, that discussion or association with people who later commit a crime may be insufficient to prove that a federal conspiracy had occurred.

Essentially, the conspiracy must be intentional, and a person cannot be convicted unless the prosecution shows they were fully aware of what they agreed to. 

The Execution of an Overt Act By at Least One Person

This element is what transforms the agreement or discussion between the conspirators from a simple consideration to a criminal offense. Here, the prosecution must prove that at least one of the conspirators had purposely done something positive or taken a concrete step to further or execute the agreement. The step or action taken in such cases is referred to as an “overt act.”

What qualifies as an overt act varies depending on the circumstances. For example, two people agree to burn down a federal building. If one later purchases large quantities of petrol or other flammable substances, that purchase could be interpreted as an overt act.

As in the above example, an act (buying petrol in this context)must not be illegal to qualify as an overt act as long as it is related to the criminal agreement between both parties.

What if Only One Person Was Involved in the Overt Act? 

An overt act by one person binds all those involved in the criminal agreement. So, if you were part of such an agreement, you could be charged and convicted for conspiracy if the others involved take things a step further, with or without your knowledge.

You’ll need an excellent criminal defense lawyer to help fight your case and possibly dissociate you from the conspiracy and other conspirators.

Is the Overt Act Element Required in all Federal Criminal Conspiracy Cases? 

The overt act element is required to prove conspiracy cases charged under the general conspiracy statute in section 371.

However, conspiracy to commit certain federal offenses is prohibited individually (such as drug conspiracy under Title 21 Section 846 of the U.S. Code). In such cases, the overt act element is not always required to establish the offense.

If you’ve been charged with federal conspiracy under any such statute, you’ll need to understand the specific elements of your charge to help you properly frame your defense.

Penalties for Federal Conspiracy Upon Conviction

A federal conspiracy conviction under the general conspiracy statute could lead to imprisonment for up to five years. If convicted, you could also be made to pay a fine as a separate sentence or in addition to a prison sentence.

The punishment could vary if the offense is charged under a separate statute that prohibits a specific type of offense. For example, conspiracy to commit federal kidnapping could lead to life imprisonment.

The smallest of these penalties could change the course of your life significantly; hence, you must do all you can to avoid them.

How a Federal Conspiracy Lawyer Can Help

Chicago federal criminal defense lawyer with experience in conspiracy cases is an invaluable asset if you are facing federal criminal charges. They understand the intricacies of federal crimes and the criminal justice system. With their experience, they can assess your federal conspiracy case and do all they can to dismantle the prosecution’s case against you.

Depending on your case, the prosecutors may want to cut a plea deal, meaning you would plead guilty to the charge in exchange for some concessions. But a plea deal is not appropriate in every case. Before accepting one, you must ensure that that path offers you the most benefit. A criminal defense lawyer can help you make that determination and weigh the pros and cons of acceptance to help you make an informed decision in your case.

The job of your Illinois Criminal Defense Lawyer is to fight for your rights and steer your case toward a positive outcome. What amounts to a positive outcome would depend on the specifics of your case. But whatever it is, you’re more certain to get the desired results with an attorney on your side.

Get Help With Your Federal Conspiracy Charges at Hirsch Law Group

Dealing with federal conspiracy charges is difficult, and the process is full of uncertainty. But you don’t need to go through it alone. You can rely on our criminal defense team to stand by you and represent you at every stage of your case.

There are two former prosecutors on our team. They understand the tactics of government prosecutors, and with their help, we can anticipate the other side’s strategies and help you prepare a formidable defense that counters them effectively.

Contact us immediately if you have further questions about federal conspiracy charges or need to help a loved one in such a situation. Let us help you as you fight your way out of the federal criminal justice system.