In the Eastern or Western District of Virginia, the definition of conspiracy is two-fold. The first element of conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to do something illegal. The second aspect of conspiracy is the overt act, an act that is done in furtherance of the conspiracy, even if it is not an illegal act. If both elements are present, then an individual could face Virginia federal conspiracy charges. If an individual has been charged with conspiracy, they should consult a knowledgeable federal conspiracy attorney that could answer their questions.
When a person faces Virginia federal conspiracy charges, that means a criminal complaint or an indictment is issued by the grand jury charging the person with conspiracy. For an indictment, a grand jury found probable cause that a person participated in the illegal agreement and there is at least one overt act.
An overt act is something that goes beyond a simple agreement between the two or more conspirators and that requires proof that one or more of the conspirators engaged in actual activity in furtherance of the conspiracy. An overt act must sometimes be proven in order to sustain a conspiracy conviction.
A conspiracy is essentially a thought crime. It is a crime where someone is making an agreement to commit a crime but there is not necessarily a written agreement or any action furthering the conspiracy.
In thought crimes, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had a guilty mind at the time that they committed the offense. In cases where a person agrees to do something or go along with something without knowing it is illegal or that a crime is about to be committed, then they have been unjustly accused.
Conspiracy is charged in many ways depending on the subject matter. A person could be charged with conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud. Healthcare fraud could be considered conspiracy to defraud a government program such as Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.
Conspiracy could also be in the fraud context and the drug context. The statutes are used quite frequently in drug cases that do not have the overt act requirement. However, there is a requirement of intent to participate in the conspiracy, which is often proven by an overt act.
There are many circumstances where someone can be charged with conspiracy and an underlying offense. For example, in a drug case, a person could be charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a certain drug and also charged with actually distributing the drug. In a bribery context, the person could be charged with conspiracy to commit a bribe and also be charged with the actual bribe. In some sense, it is a way for the government to broaden their possibility of conviction and accounts for more variety of potential activity.
As an example, in a drug case, a person is charged or the law enforcement believes the person is involved with buying and selling large quantities of cocaine. They have an undercover officer who buys on four separate occasions, smaller amounts of cocaine from that person. They could be charged with both the conspiracy to sell, ship, and traffic in the larger amounts of the drugs and also be charged with the four separate incidents of actual distribution.
An individual can be charged with conspiracy but Virginia federal conspiracy charges always difficult to sustain because as a general rule, it requires two guilty minds. Since two guilty minds are required, the obvious question becomes why the other guilty mind or minds are not being charged. If only one person is charged, then it stands to reason that the case is not a conspiracy.
One of the aggravating factors, when someone is facing federal conspiracy charges in Virginia, is the person’s role and whether they were a leader or a manager. If they managed more than five people, the amount of drugs or money involved are the primary factors. Other factors are whether the person is a public official or is in a position of trust.
There are many scenarios where people are unjustly or improperly accused of participating in a conspiracy. Often in conspiracy cases, people do not know the others who are also charged. There could be 10 people and only two of them know each other. The government must establish links between the people to include them in the conspiracy. Sometimes, a person is linked to the conspiracy because of one phone call.
The system in the Eastern and Western District of Virginia works in much the same was as in other districts. The Eastern District works much more quickly. For sentencing, a pre-sentence report writer is assigned to the case after a guilty plea or finding of guilt at trial. The report writer does an interview with the defendant and their attorney. During that interview, the report writer gets biographical information, educational information, and potential substance abuse information.
The report writer gets information about the offense from the prosecutor and the court and creates a draft for a sentence report. Each side has the opportunity to challenge, correct, or provide additional information related to different facts in the report. From there, a final draft is created for the judge and for the parties. Each side submits a sentencing memo that can include exhibits. A sentencing hearing takes place where each side makes a presentation to the judge about the appropriate sentence.
When a drug case involves plans to import a large amount of drugs and the government can establish that to a certain degree of proof, they can up that drug amount in the conspiracy and the person faces a much longer sentence.
The penalties for Virginia federal conspiracy charges can be harsh, particularly in the drug context. There are mandatory minimums in drug cases that might be five-year, 10-year, or 20-year mandatory minimums. That is a scary prospect for people that are charged. In other conspiracy contexts, the mandatory minimums are primarily in the drug context. The sentence depends on the lost amount. For example, if a conspiracy to commit bribery case has a significant bribery amount, there is the potential for a really long sentence. Individuals who face conspiracy charges should consult a knowledgeable federal conspiracy attorney that could attempt to mitigate the charges that they face.