Federal Conspiracy – 18 U.S.C. § 371

What Is a Federal Conspiracy?

You can be charged with conspiracy to commit a crime in Federal Court in the Central or Southern of California if there is an agreement between you and at least one other person to commit a Federal crime (or defraud the United States), and if you or one of the other members of the conspiracy take an overt act towards carrying it out.

The United States legislature drafted conspiracy statutes to allow prosecutors to successfully go after large-scale criminal empires, like organized crime other illegal criminal enterprises. That way, they could hold the leaders of these enterprises who employ others to commit illegal acts and profit therefrom could be held criminally liable under conspiracy laws. Now, criminal prosecutors often use these statutes to (often wrongfully) convict gang members or those involved in drug or theft crimes.

Under this statute, to “defraud” the United States means to obstruct or impair the efficiency of the government, or destroy its operation and reports as fair, impartial, and reasonably accurate, or could include cheating the government out of money or property. Some common examples of defrauding the government include lying or cheating with respect to government programs administered by Federal agencies such as the Federal Election Commission, the Veterans Administration, or the Federal Housing Administration.

What Is an Example of a Conspiracy?

To be charged with conspiracy under 18 U.S.C. § 371 you don’t need to actually complete the crime in question. The prosecution does not need to prove, either, that the conspiracy actually led to any proprietary or monetary loss by the US government or its agencies. One member of the conspiracy only needs to commit an overt act, in other words, take a step towards completing it. This act does not have to be a crime in and of itself. For example, if a group of people conspired to burn a property to commit insurance fraud, the purchase of the gasoline, itself a legal activity, would be considered the “overt act” that would ensnare all involved in the conspiracy. Another example would be if a group of people agreed to rob a bank, buying ski masks to conceal everyone’s identity would be the overt act required.

What Are Defenses to a Conspiracy Charge?

There are various legal defenses that may apply to an individual accused of conspiracy. Not having a valid agreement, not being able to show an “overt act,” and effectively and clearly withdrawing from the conspiracy are all factors that would overcome a conspiracy charge.

In the instance that you withdrew from the conspiracy before the “overt act” took place, you could be absolved of any guilt in the ensuing crimes. If there was never an overt act, meaning no steps were taken towards the furtherance of the crime, you would not be guilty of conspiracy. Furthermore if someone operated under mistake of law (i.e. they reasonably believe that they were agreeing to commit a lawful act) or if they are falsely accused of being a part of the conspiracy, a valid defense can be raised. If you never willfully joined the agreement, you would also not be liable. For example, a forced agreement made under duress or threat may be enough to defeat conspiracy charges.

What Are the Penalties for Conspiracy?

People can be charged with conspiracy to commit an illegal act, committing the illegal act itself, or both. Conspiracy is either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the underlying charge. As a felony, violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 carries a fine or imprisonment for up to five years. However, if the offense which is the subject of the conspiracy is charged as a misdemeanor, the punishment for the conspiracy cannot exceed the maximum punishment for the misdemeanor.

Are There Other Crimes Related to Federal Conspiracy?What do I do if I’m Charged With Conspiracy to Commit a Crime?

If you or a loved one have been arrested for or charged with Conspiracy under 18 U.S.C. § 371, it is critical that you discuss your case with a knowledgeable federal criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Michael Kraut understands how to effectively defend clients charged with Conspiracy offenses and works hard to ensure his clients receive the best defense possible. Mr. Kraut represents clients in Federal Court on conspiracy and other similar offenses. 

For more information about Federal Conspiracy charges, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Michael Kraut at the Kraut Criminal & DUI Lawyers located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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