Federal conspiracy laws are broad enough that you may find yourself charged with conspiracy simply as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The repercussions of a federal conspiracy conviction, however, can be quite severe and may involve years of federal prison time. You may be able to facilitate your defense to these serious charges by consulting a federal conspiracy lawyer who could help you understand the details of federal conspiracy case definitions.
In general terms, a federal conspiracy occurs when two or more people plot or plan to commit a crime together. There must be a voluntary and knowing agreement between the individuals to commit a crime—in other words, they must have a common purpose, which is to carry out the crime.
Under 18 U.S. Code §371, it is illegal for individuals to conspire to violate any federal law or to defraud the United States or any of its agencies in any way and for any purpose. In order to prove this type of conspiracy charge, the government must show that at least one of the co-conspirators undertook some overt action to perform or advance the underlying crime that was the subject of the conspiracy. Furthermore, this overt action must be taken following the agreement between the co-conspirators to commit a crime.
A closely related criminal offense under federal law is found at 18 U.S.C. §286, which outlaws conspiracy to defraud the United States or any of its agencies or departments with respect to claims. More specifically, this section prohibits obtaining or assisting to obtain the payment of any false or fraudulent claims. Notably, this type of conspiracy does not require that there be an overt act by one of the co-conspirators toward the commission of a crime, as is required by 18 U.S.C. §371.
Whether charged under either of these aforementioned statutes, conspiracy is a separate and distinct crime from any other crimes that individuals may have committed. Therefore, if two or more individuals commit bribery of a public official but conspired beforehand to plan the bribery, they can face charges of both bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery, which carry separate penalties under federal law.
Federal law also recognizes that individuals may choose to join an ongoing conspiracy, or one that already is in progress. In this case, while there still must be an overt act by at least one co-conspirator to further the conspiracy, it is inconsequential whether the individuals joining the existing conspiracy do so prior to or following the overt act. The individuals are still fully liable for the conspiracy, just as are their co-conspirators.
Federal law does allow individuals accused of conspiracy to raise the defense that they withdrew from the conspiracy. However, it is insufficient for someone to simply state that they withdrew or no longer wished to participate in the conspiracy. Rather, the individual must take some affirmative action that is inconsistent with the purpose of the conspiracy, as well as some affirmative action that is reasonably calculated to inform a co-conspirator or law enforcement officials that they have withdrawn from the conspiracy.
Penalties for federal conspiracy charges can be severe, especially when coupled with the penalties for accompanying federal criminal charges. There may be defenses available for individuals who are accused of conspiracy under federal law, but help from an experienced federal conspiracy lawyer may be crucial to your ability to raise those defenses.
Additionally, gaining valuable knowledge about federal conspiracy case definitions can assist you in combatting these serious federal charges. Contact a seasoned defense attorney today to learn what you need to know about federal conspiracy charges.