Federal Crime of Conspiracy - 18 U.S. Code § 371

Federal prosecutors often file conspiracy charges under 18 U.S.C. 371 covering a wide range of alleged criminal activity, which can be challenging to defend.

A conspiracy to commit a federal offense occurs when two or more people agree to commit a specific federal crime, and at least one person makes some overt act to further the conspiracy.

Federal Crime of Conspiracy - 18 U.S. Code § 371

Conspiracy is typically a confusing term in the federal criminal justice system. For example, prosecutors do not have to prove there was a verbal agreement between the alleged co-conspirators; instead, they only have to show that the people involved were working together to commit a federal crime.

18 U.S.C. 371 is the federal conspiracy statute that criminalizes conspiracies to defraud the United States and conspiracy to violate other federal laws. The crime of conspiracy is pretty straightforward.

It's an agreement crime, but what confuses many about a conspiracy crime is that the word conspiracy itself does not say precisely what is criminal. Instead, many conspiracy statutes require someone to accomplish an underlying goal, called the “overt act” requirement.

Simply put, somebody within the alleged conspiracy must act toward accomplishing the goal, such as buying a weapon to commit the crime. Suppose one conspirator does a required act. In that case, all co-conspirators become guilty of the conspiracy crime. Let's review this federal law further below.

Conspiracy to Commit Offense or to Defraud United States

This federal conspiracy statute defines conspiracy as when two or more people conspire to commit a federal crime, and at least one acts toward to complete it.

18 U.S.C. 371 says, “If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned….”

Notably, this federal statute does not define any particular criminal act other than to defraud the United States. Thus, we have to review other federal criminal laws for the underlying crime, such as the following:   

Federal statutes include many criminal other laws that have their conspiracy term. There is a connection between federal conspiracy laws and aiding and abetting, and solicitation crimes.  

Why Do Prosecutors Use a Conspiracy Theory?

Conspiracy is not in and of itself a crime. Instead, conspiracy is a theory that broadens the government's ability to go after people for federal crimes. The best example that can be used when you're trying to explain the conspiracy theory and the feds is drug cases.

Federal Drug Conspiracy

When you see the feds do an indictment and they have, for example, ten people in the indictment, you scratch your head saying, how could they get all of those people?  They weren't all doing the same thing. 

Especially in drug cases, many times, what we see happening is you've got one person or a group of people that are the head of a drug organization.  They're the ones making all of the money. They're using other players to be able to operate and move drugs and make money.

So, for example, somebody might be given some drugs that were manufactured, grown, or whatever type of drugs you're talking about above, and all they have to do is move the drugs from point A to point B, and they're going to get paid a couple of thousand dollars to do that.

Prosecution of Multiple People

So, how are they responsible for selling drugs or distributing narcotics?  They're going to use the conspiracy theory.  They're going to say, look, if you get involved in an agreement to move drugs – I don't care what role you play in the agreement – you agreed to it, you're going to be charged like everybody else, and that's how they're using the conspiracy theory in federal cases to go after multiple people. 

There has to be two or more people involved in the conspiracy to be able to use that theory:

  • You need an agreement between two or more people;
  • Then you need acts carried out towards that agreement to effectuate whatever the conspiracy is – conspiracy to move drugs or kill someone, for example.

A whole list of things can be used with that conspiracy theory. So, understand that.  What can you do for us when someone tells me we're charged with conspiracy?  I ask them, conspiracy to do what?

In other words, a conspiracy to steal a candy bar differs significantly from a conspiracy to commit murder.  So, I need to know the underlying crime you're allegedly conspiring to be involved with. 

Review of the Government's Evidence

Then we can start discussing what we can do to defend the case.  In my experience, the government often goes too far with its conspiracy theory.

Federal Criminal Investigation

Sometimes they're charging people with conspiring to move a ton of drugs to China, and all the person did was drive a truck from point A to point B.  They had no idea where those drugs were going.  They didn't even know what type of drugs they were. So, the government will need more specifics regarding these drug cases as it relates to going after everyone involved. 

Sometimes we can limit a person's culpability for a particular crime if they weren't in on the details of that crime, and it wasn't foreseeable that the person would go that far.

If I conspire with another person to go and rob somebody inside a 7-11 and we go in there, that person sees somebody they don't like, and they've always wanted to get.

Then, they shoot and kill that person; I really shouldn't be on the hook for that murder because I had no idea what they were doing to do that, and it's not foreseeable that something like that would happen.

If, on the other hand, during the course of the robbery, my codefendant shoots the clerk because he doesn't put the money in the bag fast enough, that is foreseeable, and I'm likely going to be on the hook in that scenario, depending on who prosecutes me – whether it's the feds or the state.

What Are the Defenses for Federal Conspiracy Charges?

Suppose you have been accused of a federal conspiracy charge under 18 U.S.C. 371. In that case, our federal criminal defense lawyers can use various strategies to fight the case for the best possible outcome.

Federal Criminal Defense Attorney

All criminal defendants at the crucial stages of proceedings have constitutional rights, such as the following:

  • The rights to counsel,
  • Due process,
  • Against self-incrimination
  • Fair and speedy trial,
  • Unreasonable search and seizure.

Defending federal conspiracy charges often depends on making federal prosecutors prove each element of the conspiracy's definition beyond a reasonable doubt.

This means you need experienced legal representation from a federal criminal lawyer to have the best chance of a favorable outcome.  We could potentially present evidence, whether in pretrial motions, plea bargaining, or at trial, that reasonable doubt exists.  

The bottom line is that you need the best if you or a loved one is charged with a conspiracy-related offense.  You require somebody who understands that theory. 

Who understands how to mitigate it. I've been doing this for 30 years.  I've gone down the road that you are about to go down and had success. So pick up the phone now.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.  I stand at the ready to help you.

Contact Us Today

Hedding Law Firm is committed to answering your questions about Federal Criminal Defense issues in Los Angeles and Encino California. We'll gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Hedding Law Firm
16000 Ventura Blvd, #1208
Encino, CA 91436