Chapter 18 of the United States Code, Section 371 criminalizes both conspiracies to defraud the US as well as conspiracies to violate any other provision of federal law. According to the statute it is illegal for two or more persons to conspire either for committing an offense against the US, or to defraud the United States, or any agency in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of these persons act in a way that furthers the conspiracy.
Elements of Federal Conspiracy
The prosecution must establish the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt for convicting the defendant in violation of 18 U.S.C Section 371
- There was an agreement between at least two people with intent to defraud or commit an offense against the United States government
- Defendant willfully joined the agreement
- Defendant or other conspirator committed an overt act with intention to further the conspiracy.
“Defraud” Element in Federal Conspiracy Crimes
For the purposes of this statute term “to defraud” in the United States means:
- Impairing or obstructing the efficiency of any department of the US government, to destroy its reports and operation as fair, impartial, and reasonably accurate;
- Cheating the government out of property or money
Knowing Participation in Federal Conspiracy
The prosecution must establish that the defendant had some knowledge of the conspiracy’s objectives. But for being considered a participant in a conspiracy defendant doesn’t have to know about every objective of the conspiracy, or be aware of the identities of other conspirators.
Overt Act is any act or statement that is knowingly done by one or more conspirators with intention to further the aim of the conspiracy. It is important to mention that a conviction for conspiracy under 18 U.S.C Section 371does not necessarily require underlying criminal act to be completed.
Defenses to Federal Conspiracy Charges
- Defendant did not willfully join the agreement
According to 18 U.S. Code 371, for being found guilty defendant must intend to agree, and have intention to commit the crime. A forced agreement made under threat or duress or is not enough for convicting the defendant.
- There was no overt act for furthering the conspiracy
According to 18 U.S. Code 371 there must be an overt act to further the conspiracy. So if a conspiracy agreement was found, but no act was made to further the alleged agreement, defendant should not be convicted of federal conspiracy.
Penalties for violating 18 U.S.C Section 371
- Up to five years in federal prison
- A fine up to $250,000, or up to $500,000 in the case of conspiracy by organizations.
- But if, the crime, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy, is only a misdemeanor, the punishment for that conspiracy cannot exceed the maximum punishment provided for such misdemeanor.