Conspiracy is one of the most often used crimes in the arsenal of the United State’s Attorneys Office.
This all encompassing charge has the ability to touch almost every Federal Crime. Common conspiracy charges include:
- Conspiracy to deal in illegal narcotics,
- Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute Cocaine, Crack Cocaine, Marijuana, or Methamphetamine.
- Conspiracy to commit Mail Fraud, Wire Fraud, Health Care Fraud, and Tax Fraud and other White Collar Crimes
If you are charged with conspiracy to commit an offense in Federal Court, your rights and your future are in jeopardy. Choosing the right criminal defense attorney to defend your case and protect your rights is critical. If you have been charged with conspiracy, or if you have reason to believe you are under investigation by law enforcement agents, the sooner you hire a criminal defense lawyer, the better positioned you will be. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson provides a strong defense to conspiracy charges at both the state and federal level.
It is important to speak to an experienced federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible if you are being investigated or have been arrested for any federal offense. Why?
- Federal authorities tend to spend a lot of time and money investigating a suspect before they make an arrest.
- They frequently have tape of your telephone conversations with an informant. Both can present significant challenges for the defense.
- Conviction for a federal offense can have extremely serious consequences, including long periods of incarceration and huge fines.
Time Is Not on Your Side
Don’t delay. The earlier you retain legal counsel, the more options we will be able to pursue. For example, we may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to get the charges dismissed or reduced before a grand jury convenes to issue an indictment. Houston Federal Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson may be able to intervene on your behalf even before an arrest is made. If you believe you are the target of an investigation by any federal authority, please contact our office immediately.
Effective Defense Against Federal and Conspiracy Charges
In order to prove conspiracy, the government must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- An agreement between at least two parties to achieve an illegal goal
- That the defendant became a member of the conspiracy knowing at least one of its goals and intending to accomplish it
- At least one conspirator committed an act to further the conspiracy.
As you can see, you can be charged with conspiracy even if you did nothing to actually commit a crime. The “crime” itself does not even have to be completed. In many cases, individuals with a limited role, or no role whatsoever in a criminal scheme, are charged with conspiracy. Suddenly even someone with a minor role in a broader conspiracy may be facing extreme consequences if convicted.
The Charles Johnson Law Firm will fight every aspect of these charges. We will hold the government to its burden of proof and will find any potential evidentiary or Constitutional violations in your case. You can contact Attorney Johnson anytime day or night and talk with him directly about your case. He can be reached at (713) 222-7577 around the clock.
Federal Conspiracy: Summary
Zacarias Moussaoui, members of the Colombian drug cartels, members of organized crime, and some of the former Enron executives have at least one thing in common: they all have federal conspiracy convictions. The essence of conspiracy is an agreement of two or more persons to engage in some form of prohibited misconduct. The crime is complete upon agreement, although some statutes require prosecutors to show that at least one of the conspirators has taken some concrete step or committed some overt act in furtherance of the scheme. There are dozens of federal conspiracy statutes. One, 18 U. S. C. 371, outlaws conspiracy to commit some other federal crime. The others outlaw conspiracy to engage in various specific forms of proscribed conduct. General Section 371 conspiracies are punishable by imprisonment for not more than five years; drug trafficking, terrorist, and racketeering conspiracies all carry the same penalties as their underlying substantive offenses, and thus are punished more severely than are Section 371 conspiracies. All are subject to fines of not more than $250,000 (not more than $500,000 for organizations), most may serve as the basis for a restitution order, and some for a forfeiture order.
The law makes several exceptions for conspiracy because of its unusual nature. Because many united in crime pose a greater danger than the isolated offender, conspirators may be punished for the conspiracy, any completed substantive offense which is the object of the plot, and any foreseeable other offenses which one of the conspirators commits in furtherance of the scheme. Since conspiracy is an omnipresent crime, it may be prosecuted wherever an overt act is committed in its furtherance. Because conspiracy is a continuing crime, its statute of limitations does not begin to run until the last overt act committed for its benefit. Since conspiracy is a separate crime, it may be prosecuted following conviction for the underlying substantive offense, without offending constitutional double jeopardy principles; because conspiracy is a continuing offense, it may be punished when it straddles enactment of the prohibiting statute, without offending constitutional ex post facto principles. Accused conspirators are likely to be tried together, and the statements of one may often be admitted in evidence against all.
In some respects, conspiracy is similar to attempt, to solicitation, and to aiding and abetting. Unlike aiding and abetting, however, it does not require commission of the underlying offense. Unlike attempt and solicitation, conspiracy does not merge with the substantive offense; a conspirator may be punished for both.
Terrorists, drug traffickers, mafia members, and corrupt corporate executives have one thing in common: most are conspirators subject to federal prosecution. Federal conspiracy laws rest on the belief that criminal schemes are equally or more reprehensible than are the substantive offenses to which they are devoted. The Supreme Court has explained that a “collective criminal agreement – a partnership in crime – presents a greater potential threat to the public than individual delicts. Concerted action both increases the likelihood that the criminal object will be successfully attained and decreases the probability that the individuals involved will depart from their path of criminality.” Moreover, observed the Court, “group association for criminal purposes often, if not normally, makes possible the attainment of ends more complex than those which one criminal could accomplish. Nor is the danger of a conspiratorial group limited to the particular end toward which it has embarked.” Finally, “combination in crime makes more likely the commission of crimes unrelated to the original purpose for which the group was formed.” In sum, “the danger which a conspiracy generates is not confined to the substantive offense which is the immediate aim of the enterprise.” Congress and the courts have fashioned federal conspiracy law accordingly.
The United States Code contains dozens of criminal conspiracy statutes. One, 18 U. S. C. 371, outlaws conspiracy to commit any other federal crime. The others outlaw conspiracy to commit some specific form of misconduct, ranging from civil rights violations to drug trafficking. Conspiracy is a separate offense under most of these statutes, regardless of whether conspiracy accomplishes its objective. The various conspiracy statutes, however, differ in several other respects. A few, including Section 371, require at least one conspirator to take some affirmative step in furtherance of the scheme. Most have no such overt act requirement.
Section 371 has two prongs. One outlaws conspiracy to commit a federal offense; a second, conspiracy to defraud the United States. Conspiracy to commit a federal crime under Section 371 requires that the underlying misconduct be a federal crime. Conspiracy to defraud the United States under Section 371 and in several other instances has no such prerequisite. Section 371 conspiracies are punishable by imprisonment for not more than five years. Elsewhere, conspirators often face more severe penalties.
These differences aside, federal conspiracy statutes share much common ground because Congress decided they should. As the Court observed in Salinas, “When Congress uses well-settled terminology of criminal law, its words are presumed to have their ordinary meaning and definition. When the relevant statutory phrase is ‘to conspire,’ we presume Congress intended to use the term in its conventional sense, and certain well-established principles follow.”
These principles include the fact that regardless of its statutory setting, every conspiracy has at least two elements: (1) an agreement (2) between two or more persons. Members of the conspiracy are also liable for the foreseeable crimes of their fellows committed in furtherance of the common plot. Moreover, statements by one conspirator are admissible evidence against all. Conspiracies are considered continuing offenses for purposes of the statute of limitations and venue. They are also considered separate offenses for purposes of sentencing and of challenges under the Constitution’s ex post facto and double jeopardy clauses. This is a brief discussion of the common features of federal conspiracy law that evolved over the years, with passing references to some of the distinctive features of some of the statutory provisions.
Although it is not without common law antecedents, federal conspiracy law is largely of our own making. It is what Congress provided, and what the courts understood Congress intended. This is not to say that conspiracy was unknown in pre-colonial and colonial England, but simply that it was a faint shadow of the crime we now know. Then, it was essentially a narrow form of malicious prosecution, subject to both a civil remedy and prosecution. In the late 18 and early 19 centuries, state courts and legislatures recognized a rapidly expanding accumulation of narrowly described wrongs as ” conspiracy.” The patchwork reached a point where one commentator explained that there were “few things left so doubtful in the criminal law, as the point at which a combination of several persons in a common object becomes illegal.”
Congress, however, enacted few conspiracy statutes prior to the Civil War. It did pass a provision in 1790 that outlawed confining the master of a ship or endeavoring revolt on board. This, Justice Story, sitting as a circuit judge, interpreted to include any conspiracy to confine the prerogatives of the master of ship to navigate, maintain, or police his ship. The same year, 1825, Congress outlawed conspiracies to engage in maritime insurance fraud. Otherwise, there were no federal conspiracy statutes until well after the mid-century mark.
During the War Between the States, however, Congress enacted four sweeping conspiracy provisions, creating federal crimes that have come down to us with little substantive change. The first, perhaps thought more pressing at the beginning of the war, was a seditious conspiracy statute. Shortly thereafter, Congress outlawed conspiracies to defraud the United States through the submission of false claim, and followed that four years later with a prohibition on conspiracies to violate federal law or to defraud the United States.
Subsequent conspiracy statutes, though perhaps no less significant, were more topically focused. The Reconstruction civil rights conspiracy provisions, the Sherman Act anti-trust provisions,and the drug and racketeering statutesmay be the best known of these. All of them begin the same way — with an agreement by two or more persons.
Two or More Persons
There are no one-man conspiracies. At common law where husband and wife were considered one, this meant that the two could not be guilty of conspiracy without the participation of some third person. This is no longer the case. In like manner at common law, corporations could not be charged with a crime. This too is no longer the case. A corporation is criminally liable for the crimes, including conspiracy, committed at least in part for its benefit, by its employees and agents. Moreover, a corporation may be criminally liable for intra-corporate conspiracies, as long as at least two of its officers, employees, or agents are parties to the plot. Notwithstanding the two-party requirement, no co-conspirator need have been tried or even identified, as long as the government produces evidence from which the conspiracy might be inferred. Even the acquittal of a co-conspirator is no defense. In fact, a person may conspire for the commission of a crime by a third person though he himself is legally incapable of committing the underlying offense.
On the other hand, two people may not always be enough. The so-called Wharton’s Rule placed a limitation on conspiracy prosecutions when the number of conspirators equaled the number of individuals necessary for the commission of the underlying offense. Under federal law, the rule “stands as an exception to the general principle that a conspiracy and the substantive offense that is its immediate end do not merge upon proof of the latter.” And under federal law, the rule reaches no further than to the types of offenses that birth its recognition — dueling, adultery, bigamy, and incest.
It is not enough, however, to show that the defendant agreed only with an undercover officer to commit the underlying offense, for there is no agreement on a common purpose in such cases. As has been said, the essence of conspiracy is an agreement, an agreement to commit some act condemned by law either as a separate federal offense or for purposes of the conspiracy statute. The agreement may be evidenced by word or action; that is, the government may prove the existence of the agreement either by direct evidence or by circumstantial evidence from which the agreement may be inferred. “Relevant circumstantial evidence may include: the joint appearance of defendants at transactions and negotiations in furtherance of the conspiracy; the relationship among codefendants; mutual representation of defendants to third parties; and other evidence suggesting unity of purpose or common design and understanding among conspirators to accomplish the objects of the conspiracy.”
The lower federal appellate courts have acknowledged that evidence of a mere buyer-seller relationship is insufficient to support a drug trafficking conspiracy charge. Some do so under the rationale that there is no singularity of purpose, no necessary agreement, in such cases: “the buyer’s purpose is to buy; the seller’s purpose is to sell.” Others do so to avoid sweeping mere customers into a large-scale trafficking operation. Still others do so lest traffickers and their addicted customers face the same severe penalties. All agree, however, that purchasers may be liable as conspirators when they are part of a large scheme.
Again, in most cases the essence of conspiracy is agreement. “Nevertheless, mere association, standing alone, is inadequate; an individual does not become a member of a conspiracy merely associating with conspirators known to be involved in crime.”
One or Many Overlapping Conspiracies
The task of sifting agreement from mere association becomes more difficult and more important with the suggestion of overlapping conspiracies. Criminal enterprises may involve one or many conspiracies. Some time ago, the Supreme Court noted that “thieves who dispose of their loot to a single receiver – a single ‘fence’ – do not by that fact alone become confederates: They may, but it takes more than knowledge that he is a ‘fence’ to make them such.” Whether it is a fence, or a drug dealer, or a money launderer, when several seemingly independent criminal groups share a common point of contact, the question becomes whether they present one overarching conspiracy or several separate conspiracies with a coincidental overlap. In the analogy suggested by the Court, when separate spokes meet at the common hub they can only function as a wheel if the spokes and hub are enclosed within a rim. When several criminal enterprises overlap, they are one overarching conspiracy or several overlapping conspiracies depending upon whether they share a single unifying purpose and understanding—one common agreement.
In determining whether they are faced with a single conspiracy or a rimless collection of overlapping schemes, the courts will look for “the existence of a common purpose . . . (2) interdependence of various elements of the overall play; and (3) overlap among the participants.” “Interdependence is present if the activities of a defendant charged with conspiracy facilitated the endeavors of other alleged co-conspirators or facilitated the venture as a whole.”
If this common agreement exists, it is of no consequence that a particular conspirator joined the plot after its inception as long as he joined it knowingly and voluntarily. Nor does it matter that a defendant does not know all of the details of a scheme or all of its participants, or that his role is relatively minor.
Conviction under 18 U. S. C. 371 for conspiracy to commit a substantive offense requires proof that one of the conspirators committed an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. In the case of prosecution under other federal conspiracy statutes that have no such requirement, the existence of an overt act may be important for evidentiary and procedural reasons. The overt act need not be the substantive crime which is the object of the conspiracy, an element of that offense, nor even a crime in its own right. Moreover, a single overt act by any of the conspirators in furtherance of plot will suffice.
Conspiracy to Defraud the United States
Federal law contains several statutes that outlaw defrauding the United States. Two of the most commonly prosecuted are 18 U. S. C. 286, which outlaws conspiracy to defraud the United States through the submission of a false claim, and 18 U. S. C. 371, which in addition to conspiracies to violate federal law, outlaws conspiracies to defraud the United States of property or by obstructing the performance of its agencies. Section 371 has an overt act requirement; section 286 does not. The general principles of federal conspiracy law apply to both.
The elements of conspiracy to defraud the United States under 18 U. S. C. 371 are (1) an agreement of two or more persons; (2) to defraud the United States; and (3) an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy committed by one of the conspirators. The “fraud covered by the statute reaches any conspiracy for the purpose of impairing, obstructing or defeating the lawful functions of any department of the Government” by “deceit, craft or trickery, or at least by means that are dishonest.” The plot must be directed against the United States or entity; a scheme to defraud the recipient of federal funds is not sufficient. The scheme may be designed to deprive the United States of money or property, but it need not be so; a plot calculated to frustrate the functions of an entity of the United States will suffice.
In contrast, a second federal statute, 18 U. S. C. 286, condemns conspiracies to defraud the United States of money or property through submission of a false claim. The elements of a section 286 violation are that “the defendant entered into a conspiracy to obtain payment or allowance of a claim against a department or agency of the United States; (2) the claim was false, fictitious, or fraudulent; (3) the defendant knew or was deliberately ignorant of the claim’s falsity, fictitiousness, or fraudulence; (4) the defendant knew of the conspiracy and intended to join it; and (5) the defendant voluntarily participated in the conspiracy.” Conviction does not require proof of an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.
When Does It End
Conspiracy is a crime which begins with a scheme and may continue on until its objective is achieved or abandoned. The liability of individual conspirators continues on from the time they joined the plot until it ends or until they withdraw. The want of an individual’s continued active participation is no defense as long as the underlying conspiracy lives and he has not withdrawn. An individual who claims to have withdrawn bears the burden of establishing either that he took some action to make his departure clear to his co-conspirators or that he disclosed the scheme to the authorities. As a general rule, overt acts of concealment do not extend the life of the conspiracy beyond the date of the accomplishment of its main objectives. On the other hand, the rule does not apply when concealment is one of the main objectives of the conspiracy.
Imprisonment and Fines
Section 371 felony conspiracies are punishable by imprisonment for not more than five years and a fine of not more than $250,000 (not more than $500,000 for organizations). Most drug trafficking, terrorism, racketeering, and many white collar conspirators face the same penalties as those who committed the underlying substantive offense, e. g. , 21 U. S. C. 846 ( “Any person who . . . conspires to commit any offense defined in the Controlled Substances Act shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the . . . conspiracy” ); 18 U. S. C. 2339B ( “Whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization . . . . or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both” ); 18 U. S. C. 1962(d), 1963(a)( “(d) It shall be unlawful for any person to conspire to violate any of the racketeering provisions of subsection (a), (b), or (c) of this section. . . . (a) Whoever violates any provision of section 1962 . . . shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for not more than 20 years. . . or both ” ); 18 U. S. C. 1349 ( ” Any person who . . . conspires to commit any offense under this chapter relating to mail fraud, wire fraud, etc. shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of . . . the conspiracy” ).
The United States Sentencing Guidelines greatly influence the sentences for federal crimes. Federal courts are bound to impose a sentence within the statutory maximums and minimums. Their decision of what sentence to impose within those boundaries, however, must begin with a determination of the sentencing recommendation under the guidelines. Reasonableness standards govern review of their sentencing decisions,and a sentence within the Sentencing Guideline range is presumed reasonable.
The Sentencing Guidelines system is essentially a scoring system. Federal crimes are each assigned a numerical base offense level and levels are added and subtracted to account for the various aggravating and mitigating factors in a particular case. Thus, for example, providing material support to a terrorist organization, 18 U. S. C. 2339B, has a base offense level of 26, which may be increased by 2 levels if the support comes in the form of explosives, U. S. S. G. §2M5. 3(a), (b) and may be increased or decreased still further for other factors. The guidelines designate six sentencing ranges of each total offense level; the appropriate range within the six is determined by extent of the offender’s criminal record. For instance, the sentencing range for a first-time offender with a total offense level of 28 would be imprisonment for between 78 and 97 months (Category I); while the range for an offender in the highest criminal history category (Category VI) would be imprisonment for between 140 and 175 months.
The base offense level for conspiracy is generally the same as that for the underlying offense, either by operation of an individual guideline, for example, U. S. C. §2D1. 1 (drug trafficking), or by operation of the general conspiracy guideline, U. S. S. C. §2X1. 1. In any event, conspirators who play a leadership role in an enterprise are subject to an increase of from 2 to 4 levels,
U. S. S. G. §3B1. 1, and those who play a more subservient role may be entitled to reduction of from 2 to 4 levels, U. S. S. G. §3B1. 2. In the case of terrorism offenses, conspirators may also be subject to a special enhancement which sets the minimum total offense level at 32 and the criminal history category at VI (regardless of the extent of the offender’s criminal record), U. S. S. G. §3A1. 4.
The Sentencing Guidelines also address the imposition of fines below the statutory maximum. The total offense level dictates the recommended fine range for individual and organizational defendants. For instance, the fine range for an individual with a total offense level of 28 is $12,500 to $125,000, U. S. C. §5E1. 2. The recommended fine range for an organization with a total offense level of 28 is $6,300,000 (assuming the loss or gain associated with the organization offense exceeds the usual $500,000 ceiling), U. S. S. G. §8C2. 4.
A conspirator’s liability for restitution is a matter of circumstance. Most conspiracy statutes do not expressly provide for restitution, but in most instances restitution may be required or permitted under any number of grounds. As a general rule, federal law requires restitution for certain offenses and permits it for others. A sentencing court is generally required to order a defendant to make restitution following conviction for a crime of violence or for a crime against property (including fraud), 18 U. S. C. 366A(a), (c). Those entitled to restitution under Section 3663A include those ” directly and proximately harmed ” by the crime of conviction and “in the case of an offense that involves as an element a scheme, conspiracy, or pattern of criminal activity, any person directly harmed by the defendant’s criminal conduct in the course of the scheme, conspiracy or pattern,” 18 U. S. C. 3663A(b).
Otherwise, a court is permitted to order restitution (a) following conviction for an offense prescribed under title 18 of the United States Code or for drug trafficking, 18 U. S. C. 3663; (b) as a condition of probation or supervised release, 18 U. S. C. 3563(b)(2), 3583(d); or (c) pursuant to a plea agreement, 18 U. S. C. 3663(a)(3), 3663A(c)(2).
The treatment of forfeiture in conspiracy cases is perhaps even more individualistic than restitution in conspiracy cases. The general criminal forfeiture statute, 18 U. S. C. 982, authorizes confiscation for several classes of property as a consequence of a particular conspiracy conviction, for example, 18 U. S. C. 982(a)(2)(calling for the confiscation of proceeds realized from “a violation of, or a conspiracy to – (A) section . . . 1341, 1343, 1344 of this title relating to mail, wire and bank fraud, affecting a financial institution” ); 18 U. S. C. 982(a)(8)(calling for the confiscation of proceeds from, and property used to facilitate or promote, “an offense under section . . . 1341, or 1343, or of a conspiracy to commit such an offense, if the offense involves telemarketing” ).
In the case of drug trafficking, forfeiture turns on the fact that it is authorized for any Controlled Substance Act violation, 21 U. S. C. 853, of which conspiracy is one, 21 U. S. C. 846. The same can be said of racketeering conspiracy provisions of 18 U. S. C. 1962(d).
Relation of Conspiracy to Other Crimes
Conspiracy is a completed crime upon agreement, or upon agreement and the commission of an overt act under statutes with an overt act requirement. Conviction does not require commission of the crime that is the object of the conspiracy. On the other hand, conspirators may be prosecuted for conspiracy, for any completed offense which is the object of the conspiracy, as well as for any foreseeable offense committed in furtherance of the conspiracy.
Aid and Abet
Anyone who “aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces, or procures” the commission of a federal crime by another is punishable as a principal, that is, as though he had committed the offense himself, 18 U. S. C. 2. If the other agrees and an overt act is committed, they are conspirators, each liable for conspiracy and any criminal act committed to accomplish it. If the other commits the offense, they are equally punishable for the basic offense. “Typically, the same evidence will support both a conspiracy and an aiding and abetting conviction.” The two are clearly distinct, however, as the Ninth Circuit has noted:
The difference between the classic common law elements of aiding and abetting and a criminal conspiracy underscores this material distinction, although at first blush the two appear similar. Aiding and abetting the commission of a specific crime, we have held, includes four elements: (1) that the accused had the specific intent to facilitate the commission of a crime by another, (2) that the accused had the requisite intent to commit the underlying substantive offense, (3) that the accused assisted or participated in the commission of the underlying substantive offense, and (4) that the principal committed the underlying offense. As Lopez emphasized, the accused generally must associate himself with the venture . . . participate in it as something he wishes to bring about, and sought by his action to make it succeed.
By contrast, a classic criminal conspiracy as charged in 18 U. S. C. § 371 is broader. The government need only prove (1) an agreement to engage in criminal activity, (2) one or more overt acts taken to implement the agreement, and (3) the requisite intent to commit the substantive crime. Indeed, a drug conspiracy does not even require commission of an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.
Two distinctions become readily apparent after a more careful comparison. First, the substantive offense which may be the object in a § 371 conspiracy need not be completed. Second, the emphasis in a § 371 conspiracy is on whether one or more overt acts was undertaken. This language necessarily is couched in passive voice for it matters only that a co-conspirator commit the overt act, not necessarily that the accused herself does so. In an aiding and abetting case, not only must the underlying substantive offense actually be completed by someone, but the accused must take some action, a substantial step, toward associating herself with the criminal venture. United States v. Hernandez-Orellana, 539 F. 3d 994, 1006-1007 (9th Cir. 2008).
Conspiracy and attempt are both inchoate offenses, unfinished crimes in a sense. They are forms of introductory misconduct that the law condemns lest they result in some completed form of misconduct. Federal law has no general attempt statute. Congress, however, has outlawed attempt to commit a number of specific federal offenses. Like conspiracy, a conviction for attempt does not require the commission of the underlying offense. Both require an intent to commit the contemplated substantive offense. Like conspiracy, the fact that it may be impossible to commit the target offense is no defense to a charge of attempt to commit it. Unlike conspiracy, attempt can be committed by a single individual. Attempt only becomes a crime when it closely approaches a substantive offense. Conspiracy becomes a crime far sooner. Mere acts of preparation will satisfy the most demanding conspiracy statute, not so with attempt. Conspiracy requires no more than an overt act in furtherance; attempt, a substantial step to completion. Moreover, unlike a conspirator, an accused may not be convicted of both attempt and the underlying substantive offense.
An individual may be guilty of both conspiring with others to commit an offense and of attempting to commit the same offense, either himself or through his confederates. In some circumstances, he may be guilty of attempted conspiracy. Congress has outlawed at least one example of an attempt to conspire in the statute which prohibits certain invitations to conspire, that is, solicitation to commit a federal crime of violence, 18 U. S. C. 373.
Section 373 prohibits efforts to induce another to commit a crime of violence “under circumstances strongly corroborative” of intent to see the crime committed, 18 U. S. C. 373(a). Section 373’s crimes of violence are federal “felonies that have as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against property or against the person of another,” id. Examples of “strongly corroborative” circumstances include “the defendant offering or promising payment or another benefit in exchange for committing the offense; threatening harm or other detriment for refusing to commit the offense; repeatedly soliciting or discussing at length in soliciting the commission of the offense, or making explicit that the solicitation is serious; believing or knowing that the persons solicited had previously committed similar offenses; and acquiring weapons, tools, or information or use in committing the offense, or making other apparent preparations for its commission.” As is the case of attempt, “an individual cannot be guilty of both the solicitation of a crime and the substantive crime.” Although the crime of solicitation is complete upon communication with the requisite intent, renunciation prior to commission of the substantive offense is a defense. The offender’s legal incapacity to commit the solicited offense himself, however, is not a defense.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for most federal crimes is five years, 18 U. S. C. 3282. The five-year limitation applies to the general conspiracy statute, 18 U. S. C. 371, and to the false claims conspiracy statute, 18 U. S. C. 286. Section 371 requires proof of an overt act; section 286 does not. For conspiracy offenses with an overt act requirement like those under Section 371, the statute of limitations begins with completion of the last overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. For conspiracy offenses with no such requirement like those under section 286, the statute of limitations begins with the abandonment of the conspiracy or the accomplishment of its objectives.
The presence or absence of an overt act requirement makes a difference for statute of limitations purposes. For venue purposes, it apparently does not. The Supreme Court has observed in passing that “this Court has long held that venue is proper in any district in which an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy was committed, even where an overt act is not a required element of the conspiracy offense.” The lower federal appellate courts are seemingly of the same view, for they have found venue proper for a conspiracy prosecution wherever an overt act occurs — under overt act statutes and non-overt act statutes alike.
Joinder and Severance (One Conspiracy, One Trial)
Three rules of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure govern joinder and severance for federal criminal trials. Rule 8 permits the joinder of common criminal charges and defendants. Rule 12 insists that a motion for severance be filed prior to trial. Rule 14 authorizes the court to grant severance for separate trials as a remedy for prejudicial joinder.
The Supreme Court has pointed out that “there is a preference in the federal system for joint trials of defendants who are indicted together. Joint trials play a vital role in the criminal justice system. They promote efficiency and serve the interests of justice by avoiding the scandal and inequity of inconsistent verdicts.” In conspiracy cases, a ” conspiracy charge combined with substantive counts arising out of that conspiracy is a proper basis for joinder under Rule 8(b).” Moreover, “the preference in a conspiracy trial is that persons charged together should be tried together.” In fact, “it will be the rare case, if ever, where a district court should sever the trial of alleged co-conspirators.” The Supreme Court has reminded the lower courts that “a district court should grant a severance under Rule 14 only if there is a serious risk that a joint trial would compromise a specific trial right of one of the defendants, or prevent the jury from making a reliable judgment about guilt or innocence.” The Court noted that the risk may be more substantial in complex cases with multiple defendants, but that “less drastic measures, such as limiting instructions, often will suffice to cure any risk of prejudice.” Subsequently lower federal appellate court opinions have emphasized the curative effect of appropriate jury instructions.
Double Jeopardy and Ex Post Facto
Because conspiracy is a continuing offense, it stands as an exception to the usual ex post facto principles. Because it is a separate crime, it also stands as an exception to the usual double jeopardy principles.
The ex post facto clauses of the Constitution forbid the application of criminal laws which punish conduct that was innocent when it was committed or punishes more severely criminal conduct than when it was committed. Increasing the penalty for an ongoing conspiracy, however, does not offend ex post facto constraints as long as the conspiracy straddles the date of the legislative penalty enhancement.
The double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment declares that no person shall “be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” This prohibition condemns successive prosecutions, successive punishments, and successive use of charges rejected in acquittal.
For successive prosecution or punishment, the critical factor is the presence or absence of the same offense. Offenses may overlap, but they are not the same crime as long as each requires proof of an element that the other does not. 130 Since conspiracy and its attendant substantive offense are ordinarily separate crimes — one alone requiring agreement and the other alone requiring completion of the substantive offense — the double jeopardy clause poses no impediment to successive prosecution or to successive punishment of the two.
Double jeopardy issues arise most often in a conspiracy context when a case presents the question of whether the activities of the accused conspirators constitute a single conspiracy or several overlapping conspiracies. Multiple conspiracies may be prosecuted sequentially and punished with multiple sanctions; single conspiracies must be tried and punished once. Asked to determine whether they are faced with one or more than one conspiracy, the courts have said they inquire whether:
- the locus criminis place of the two alleged conspiracies is the same;
- there is a significant degree of temporal overlap between the two conspiracies charged;
- there is an overlap of personnel between the two conspiracies (including unindicted as well as indicted co-conspirators);
- the over acts charged are related;
- the role played by the defendant relates to both;
- there was a common goal among the conspirators;
- whether the agreement contemplated bringing to pass a continuous result that will not continue without the continuous cooperation of the conspirators; and
- the extent to which the participants overlapped in their various dealings.
At trial, the law favors the testimony of live witnesses — under oath, subject to cross examination, and in the presence of the accused and the jury — over the presentation of their evidence in writing or through the mouths of others. The hearsay rule is a product of this preference. Exceptions and definitions narrow the rule’s reach. For example, hearsay is usually defined to include only those out-of-court statements which are offered in evidence “to prove the truth of the matter asserted.”
Although often referred to as the exception for co-conspirator declarations, the Federal Rules of Evidence treats the matter within its definition of hearsay. Thus, Rule 801(d)(2)(E) of the Federal Rules provides that an out-of-court “statement is not hearsay if . . . (2) The statement is offered against a party and is . . . (E) a statement by a coconspirator of a party during the course and in furtherance of the conspiracy.”
To admit a co-conspirator declaration into evidence under the Rule, a “court must find: (1) the conspiracy existed; (2) the defendant was a member of the conspiracy; and (3) the co-conspirator made the proffered statements in furtherance of the conspiracy.” The court, however, may receive the statement preliminarily subject to the prosecution’s subsequent demonstration of its admissibility by a preponderance of the evidence. As to the first two elements, a coconspirator’s statement without more is insufficient; there must be ” some extrinsic evidence sufficient to delineate the conspiracy and corroborate the declarant’s and the defendant’s roles in it.” As to the third element, “a statement is in furtherance of a conspiracy if it is intended to promote the objectives of the conspiracy.” A statement is in furtherance, for instance, if it describes for the benefit of a co-conspirator the status of the scheme, its participants, or its methods. Bragging, or “mere idle chatter or casual conversation about past events, “however, are not considered statements in furtherance of a conspiracy.
Under some circumstances, evidence admissible under the hearsay rule may nevertheless be inadmissible because of Sixth Amendment restrictions. The Sixth Amendment provides, among other things, that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” The provision was inspired in part by reactions to the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh, who argued in vain that he should be allowed to confront the alleged co-conspirator who had accused him of treason. Given its broadest possible construction, the confrontation clause would eliminate any hearsay exceptions or limitations. The Supreme Court in Crawford v. Washington explained, however, that the clause has a more precise reach. The clause uses the word “witnesses” to bring within its scope only those who testify or whose accusations are made in a testimonial context. In a testimonial context, the confrontation clause permits use at trial of prior testimonial accusations only if the witness is unavailable and only if the accused had the opportunity to cross examine him when the testimony was taken. The Court elected to “leave for another day any effort to spell out a comprehensive definition of ‘testimonial,'” but has suggested that the term includes “affidavits, depositions, prior testimony, or confessions ,and other statements that were made under circumstances which would lead an objective witness reasonably to believe that the statement would be available for use at a later trial.” Since Crawford, the lower federal courts have generally held that the confrontation clause poses no obstacle to the admissibility of the co-conspirator statements at issue in the cases before them, either because the statements were not testimonial; were not offered to establish the truth of the asserted statement; or because the clause does not bar co-conspirator declarations generally.
Obtain the Best Defense Against Federal Conspiracy Charges
Many people charged with federal drug conspiracies are concerned with predicting the outcome of their cases. They often wonder about the likelihood of a conviction and the length of a potential sentence. The truth is that, if you are charged with a drug conspiracy, your case can be very serious and complicated. A lot may depend on the drug quantity, the testimony of witnesses and on cooperation with the prosecution. Federal Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson can help you navigate the legal system so that you can make decisions based on in-depth understanding of the consequences you may face.
In federal drug conspiracy cases, a lot has to do with the strength of the evidence. Experienced Attorney Charles Johnson skilled at helping clients evaluate whether to take a case to trial or whether to find other ways to resolve the issue more favorably. At the Charles Johnson Law Firm, we place a large emphasis on honesty with our clients. Although it is often more difficult to be realistic with clients than to promise miracles, we know that our clients and their families deserve the truth about the seriousness of federal drug conspiracy charges.
They also deserve the skilled legal representation we provide. Whether you are charged with criminal conspiracy, a continuing criminal enterprise or with a violation the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (commonly called RICO), we will use our knowledge and experience to strive for the best results possible.
Contact Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson anytime night or day at (713) 222-7577 to speak with him directly. Our law firm is dedicated to helping clients face drug conspiracy charges with confidence and dignity.
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