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Federal Conspiracy Case Definitions

A federal conspiracy lawyer, answers questions about what constitutes a conspiracy under federal law and the characteristics of federal conspiracy cases.

What is Federal Criminal Conspiracy?

Well generally speaking conspiracy is an agreement between two or more parties to commit a criminal act.

What Does It Mean For An Individual To Be Charged With Federal Conspiracy?

Conspiracy essentially means that a person, at least the government believes the person, has made an agreement with another person to commit a criminal act. When conspiracy is charged, it creates an interesting dynamic because there’s no requirement for the government to prove that the actual offense occurred just that there was an agreement for the offense to occur. Thus, the penalties for conspiracy often are the same as the penalties for the underlying offense.

For example, if the government charges two or more persons with conspiracy to commit bribery and deprivation of honest government services, then the government need not prove that the accused actually went through with the offense of bribery or deprivation of honest services only that there was an agreement to do so. In the case of bribery and deprivation of honest services, the government must also prove that at least one or more of the accused individuals took a substantial step toward completing the offense.

What Does the Prosecution Need to Prove in a Conspiracy Case?

It depends on the statute the government charges in the indictment and it also depends on the jurisdiction. There’s some different case law around the country in terms of the various federal circuits and what each has ruled the government needs to prove for a conspiracy conviction in that jurisdiction. But, generally speaking, there are two types of conspiracy statutes. You’ll have a statute where the government needs to prove that two or more persons entered into an agreement to violate federal law and that the agreement was joined by each individual knowingly and on purpose and not by mistake or accident.

Under other statutes, the government must additionally prove that at least one of the defendants did something in furtherance of the conspiracy which is called an “overact.”

What Are Common Misconceptions About Federal Conspiracy Cases?

I think the single most common misconception is that people believe that the government has to prove that the accused actually completed the underlying offense that’s charged. For example, in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute narcotics, the government need not prove that you actually possessed with intent to distribute narcotics. The government only needs to prove that there was a criminal agreement by which the group was going to try to possess narcotics with the intent to distribute.

It can be hard for people to understand that it’s actually the agreement to commit a crime that makes conspiracy illegal.  The government is not required to prove that the alleged defendants were successful at committing the underlying offense. Thus, it’s often hard for clients to understand that the government has no obligation to prove the completed underlying offense.

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