The crime of conspiracy exists because legislators have deemed group criminality inherently more dangerous than crime perpetrated by a single individual.
When individuals come together to participate in criminal conduct, there is an opportunity for division of labor and specialization. By contrast, when an individual plans to commit a criminal offense absent outside assistance, such a person is limited to his or her own skills and resources.
If you are facing federal conspiracy charges in Virginia, it is in your best interest to contact an experienced Virginia federal conspiracy lawyer as soon as possible. Below is a discussion of conspiracy’s statutory provisions, why conspiracy is charged, and the penalties associated with a conspiracy conviction.
Conspiracy is considered an inchoate, or incomplete, crime, which means that a person can be prosecuted irrespective of whether or not the criminal objective was actually accomplished. Thus, one way of understanding a federal conspiracy charge is the criminalization of the meeting of the minds. If two or more individuals possess the requisite mental state, and come to an agreement to commit an offense against the United States — subject to some additional requirements — that conduct would constitute a conspiracy.
There are a number of different statutory provisions relating to conspiracy. However, the overarching and most commonly cited provision is 18 U.S. Code Section 371 – the general conspiracy statute.
Per the text of the statute, it is a crime “[i]f two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.” An “offense” against the United States constitutes any federal crime (i.e. a violation of the United States Code.)
Importantly, there also must be at least two or more individuals with the requisite intent. This is known as the plurality requirement. What this means in practice is that an agreement reached between an undercover government agent and another party would not constitute a conspiracy.
Another element of the crime of conspiracy is the “overt act” committed “in furtherance of the conspiracy.” In order for the government to have a plausible case, they must demonstrate that a co-conspirator acted, or failed to act, in such a way that contributed to the illicit end, and did so within the scope of the unlawful agreement.
What is important to understand about this requirement is that the overt act need not be anything illegal, and as such, this is often fairly easy for the government to demonstrate.
Both the overt act and the agreement are informative of jurisdiction. Therefore, to be charged with federal conspiracy in the state of Virginia, the agreement must have been reached in Virginia or an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy must have been committed within the jurisdiction, according to 18 U.S.C. Section 371.
Conspiracy is a trans-substantive offense, which means that it is applicable to a variety of US Code violations. It is also a free-standing offense, which means that an individual can be charged with conspiracy and the substantive crime. This is the principal difference between conspiracy and aiding and abetting, as the latter is a theory of prosecution and not a free-standing offense. Certain offenses such as securities fraud, mail and wire fraud, and narcotics offenses contain specific conspiracy provisions (see 18 U.S. Code Section 1349 and 21 U.S. Code Section 846, respectively).
There are numerous, strategic reasons for a prosecutor to charge conspiracy, one of which is evidentiary. Typically in criminal cases, hearsay statements are barred from being introduced as evidence as the person who made the utterance, known as the declarant, cannot be cross-examined. However, in the case of conspiracy there is an exception to the Federal Rules of Evidence that permits the admission of hearsay evidence in court.
According to the exception, Rule 801(d)(2)E), a statement made by a co-conspirator within the scope of the unlawful agreement that was “in furtherance of” the conspiracy is admissible.
Another reason why a prosecutor would charge conspiracy is because of vicarious liability – meaning that the defendant can be held liable for the substantive offenses committed by co-conspirators.
In the landmark case of Pinkerton v. United States (1924), the Supreme Court held that a defendant can be vicariously liable for the substantive offenses of a co-conspirator, provided that the offense was committed within the scope of the conspiracy and in furtherance of its objective(s). The Pinkerton rule illustrates the gravity of a conspiracy charge, and is a testament to the imperativeness of having a criminal attorney well-versed in federal charges and procedure.
A final reason that conspiracy is charged and why it requires skilled legal counsel is because of the prosecution’s ability to bring all parties involved in the conspiracy to a single trial. To some extent this can put the defendants at a disadvantage collectively, albeit not a disadvantage which courts have understood as contrary to due process or federal procedure. The danger of a single trial for multiple defendants is guilt by association.
If there is a substantial amount of evidence against one of the co-conspirators, but less evidence against another, the jury might be inclined to attribute guilt to a defendant based on evidence that might be less compelling at an individual trial.
However, there are certain limitations to having a single trial. An experienced federal criminal lawyer will be able to determine whether or not the joinder of a case is in violation of a defendant’s right to a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment. Each defendant in the case must have been part of the conspiracy, and if it can be shown that a defendant was not a party to the agreement, joinder will not be constitutional.
The maximum penalties for a conspiracy charge under the general conspiracy statute are five years imprisonment, fines, or both. Additionally, one can be charged with the underlying substantial offense, which can result in an additional period of imprisonment and/or fines. As such, a skilled Virginia criminal defense attorney is a true asset if one is facing conspiracy charges.
There is a tremendous amount at stake when one is faced with conspiracy charges. A conviction can result in imprisonment, fines, and a host of collateral consequences. For example, one’s ability to secure gainful employment or receive financial assistance can be jeopardized.
A Virginia federal conspiracy lawyer understands the gravity of the situation and will work with a defendant to establish his or her innocence. Such an attorney will be intimately aware of federal proceedings, the strategies utilized by prosecutors, and arguments that will resonate in front of a jury.
If you are facing federal conspiracy charges, contact one of the knowledgeable and experienced federal criminal attorneys today.
Do not send us confidential information related to you or your company until you speak with one of our attorneys and get authorization to send that information to us.