You might think of a conspiracy as something that happens in the movies-a dastardly plan concocted by two or more bad guys to commit some sort of evil deed. However, it’s actually much more common than you might think in the real world, because conspiracies are often used by lawyers and prosecutors to try to convict criminals of various crimes. If you’re charged with federal conspiracy, you should take the charge seriously, because it could carry serious consequences for you if convicted of it. Here’s everything you need to know about federal conspiracy charges.
What is Conspiracy?
Conspiracy is the illegal act of two or more people-or one person and several other people, if you’re accused of masterminding an entire conspiracy-who plot to commit a crime together. The crime doesn’t have to be committed; it just has to be planned. In other words, to qualify as a conspiracy, participants don’t have to actually do anything wrong.
What is Conspiracy Law?
Conspiracy law rests on the assumption that people in groups-whether small groups or large-are more likely to commit crimes than individuals, because it’s easier for a group to hide their illegal activities than for any single member of the group. Thus, a conspiracy charge is almost always brought against an entire group of people (sometimes called a “conspiracy team”), rather than against any one person.
What is a Conspiracy Charge?
A conspiracy charge is the most severe of all federal criminal charges, and it carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five to ten years in federal prison. If you’re convicted of a conspiracy charge, your criminal record will show that you’re guilty of that crime. And federal prosecutors almost always bring a conspiracy charge when they want to send someone to prison.
What are the Elements of Conspiracy?
As you learned in Section 1, a conspiracy charge is designed to allow prosecutors to convict people who they believe have committed serious crimes together. It’s not as easy to prove someone guilty of conspiracy as it is to prove they broke the law on their own-the fact that someone planned or participated in a crime doesn’t automatically mean that person’s guilty of that crime. There are several elements that prosecutors must prove to convict someone of conspiracy:
- The Act or the Plan : First, there must be an actual crime or plan to commit a crime. This is usually clear-cut, because the defendant has already been charged with something or other-but sometimes it’s not as clear-cut, such as when a defendant is charged with merely possessing illegal drugs when someone suggests they should sell them together. The act or plan must be criminal, and it must specifically involve the defendant. If a defendant is arrested while merely standing on a corner talking to someone, they might not be charged with conspiracy, even if they followed through with their plans to commit illegal acts later that day.
- The Specificity Requirement : Second, defendants in conspiracy cases have to know that they’re involved in an illegal plan with other people. The second element requires a bit more explanation. Here’s an example: let’s say you’re arrested for possession with intent to distribute cocaine, and you know there are four other people involved in the crime, too. The prosecutor can’t merely accuse you of being a member of a conspiracy team; they have to show that each defendant knew they were sharing an illegal plan with the other defendants.
- Agreement : Third, in order to convict you of conspiracy, prosecutors must prove that you and at least one other person mutually agreed to commit the crime together. This element can be tricky, because it’s often difficult to prove that someone agreed to commit a crime. But if you and another person spoke about committing a crime together, or if you helped someone commit a crime after discussing it with them, then it’s likely that the prosecutor can convince a jury that the two of you agreed upon a criminal plan together.
- Conscious Involvement : Fourth, the person or people involved in the conspiracy must be aware that their actions were illegal and that they fully intended to commit the crimes. If you bite someone for a few cents at a drug deal, that isn’t a conspiracy, even if you really did intend to commit burglary later that day. However, if you prepare for a burglary at night and actually go out and commit it during the day, then it’s possible that you’re guilty of conspiracy.