The most common prosecutorial tool used by the government is conspiracy. The wide ranging impact of conspiracy law has been felt throughout the federal criminal system. Conspiracy can apply to almost every substantive federal crime, and the penalties for conspiracy are the same as if you were convicted of the actual commission of the crime. The effect of a conspiracy conviction can have life altering consequences based on nothing more than an agreement to commit a crime. Conspiracy cases can carry mandatory jail time. It is critical to get an attorney who understands the complex area of conspiracy law.
The Henry Law Firm PLLC has represented individuals and corporations charged with conspiracies of all kinds. Our experience trying conspiracy cases in front of a jury and filing appeals attacking conspiracy convictions gives us significantly knowledge in the area of conspiracy law. Our attorneys have successfully tried cases and saved clients years in prison. In some cases we have been able to avoid charges altogether or take advantage of other programs that lead to charges being dismissed.
Conspiracy can be defined very simply as an agreement to do something illegal. In trying to distill what a conspiracy entails, courts have said:
“The essence of the crime of conspiracy … is the agreement to commit one or more unlawful acts.” United States v. Praddy, 725 F.3d 147, 153 (2d Cir.2013) (emphasis in original) (citation omitted); see also Iannelli v. United States, 420 U.S. 770, 777, 95 S.Ct. 1284, 43 L.Ed.2d 616 (1975) (“Conspiracy is an inchoate offense, the essence of which is an agreement to commit an unlawful act.”); United States v. Falcone, 311 U.S. 205, 210, 61 S.Ct. 204, 85 L.Ed. 128 (1940); United States v. Beech–Nut Nutrition Corp., 871 F.2d 1181, 1191 (2d Cir.1989) (“The gist of conspiracy is, of course, agreement.”); United States v. Rosenblatt, 554 F.2d 36, 38 (2d Cir.1977). Put differently, a conspiracy is the “ ‘combination of minds for an unlawful purpose.’ ” Smith v. United States, ––– U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 714, 719, 184 L.Ed.2d 570 (2013) (quoting *551 United States v. Hirsch, 100 U.S. 33, 34, 25 L.Ed. 539 (1879)).2
To be convicted of a conspiracy the government must prove certain elements. For most conspiracies those elements include:
Conspiracy requires proof of: (1) an agreement among the conspirators to commit an offense; (2) specific intent to achieve the objective of the conspiracy; and (3) usually, an overt act to effect the object of the conspiracy.United States v. Pinckney, 85 F.3d 4, 8 (2d Cir. 1996)
The first element of conspiracy is an agreement. To be convicted of a conspiracy an agreement must be proven. To prove an agreement a person does not have to sign a contract, give a specific indication of agreement or reach any exact terms. As the courts have found:
It is not necessary to prove that the defendant expressly agreed with other conspirators on a course of action; it is enough, rather, to show that the parties had a tacit understanding to carry out the prohibited conduct.United States v. Ulbricht, 31 F. Supp. 3d 540, 551 (S.D.N.Y. 2014)
Objective of the Conspiracy
The object of the conspiracy, or the criminal objective, must be known in order to be convicted of a conspiracy. Courts make it clear that a general agreement is insufficient saying:
To be convicted of a conspiracy, a defendant must know what “ ‘kind of criminal conduct was in fact contemplated.’ ” Rosenblatt, 554 F.2d at 38 (quoting United States v. Gallishaw, 428 F.2d 760, 763 n. 1 (2d Cir.1970)). That is, the defendant has to know what the “object” of the conspiracy he joined was. A “general agreement to engage in unspecified criminal conduct is insufficient to identify the essential nature of the conspiratorial plan.” Rosenblatt, 554 F.2d at 39. Indeed, “[t]he government must prove that the defendant agreed to commit a particular offense and not merely a vague agreement to do something wrong.” United States v. Salameh, 152 F.3d 88, 151 (2d Cir.1998) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis in original). That said, “[t]he government need not show that the defendant knew all of the details of the conspiracy, so long as he knew its general nature and extent.” United States v. Huezo, 546 F.3d 174, 180 (2d Cir.2008) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
The proof needed to establish the knowledge required to join a conspiracy varies greatly depending on the circumstance. However, multiple inferences can be made based on a person’s conduct as the Southern District of New York pointed out:
The quantum of proof necessary at trial to sustain a finding of knowledge varies. “A defendant’s knowing and willing participation in a conspiracy may be inferred from, for example, [his] presence at critical stages of the conspiracy that could not be explained by happenstance, … a lack of surprise when discussing the conspiracy with others, … [or] evidence that the defendant participated in conversations directly related to the substance of the conspiracy; possessed items important to the conspiracy; or received or expected to receive a share of the profits from the conspiracy.”United States v. Ulbricht, 31 F. Supp. 3d 540, 552 (S.D.N.Y. 2014)
Most conspiracies require an overt act before a conviction can be won. However, that is not true in drug conspiracies. The Supreme Court specifically found:
Proof of overt act is not required to establish violation of drug conspiracy statute.
United States v. Shabani, 513 U.S. 10, 115 S. Ct. 382, 130 L. Ed. 2d 225 (1994)
Single vs. Multiple Conspiracies
Conspiracies can exist as a single conspiracy or as multiple conspiracies. A single conspiracy may be characterized:
“[A]cts that could be charged as separate counts of an indictment may instead be charged in a single count if those acts could be characterized as part of a single continuing scheme.” United States v. Aracri, 968 F.2d 1512, 1518 (2d Cir.1992) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). In determining whether a single conspiracy involving many people exists, the question is whether there is a *553 “mutual dependence” among the participants. Geibel, 369 F.3d at 692 (citation omitted); United States v. Williams, 205 F.3d 23, 33 (2d Cir.2000). The Government must show that each alleged member of the conspiracy agreed to participate “ ‘in what he knew to be a collective venture directed towards a common goal.’ ” United States v. Eppolito, 543 F.3d 25, 47 (2d Cir.2008) (quoting United States v. Berger, 224 F.3d 107, 114 (2d Cir.2000)); see also Geibel, 369 F.3d at 692 (explaining that when two participants do not mutually benefit from the other’s participation, a finding of a single conspiracy is less likely).United States v. Ulbricht, 31 F. Supp. 3d 540, 552-53 (S.D.N.Y. 2014)
However, if a single conspiracy cannot be proven, or multiple conspiracies exist, a person may be entitled to argue a multiple conspiracies defense and obtain an acquittal if the government did not specifically allege every separate conspiracy.
How We Can Help
The Henry Law Firm PLLC has significant experience representing individuals in conspiracy charges in trial and on appeal. We have successfully defended people charged with drug conspiracies, conspiracies to defraud, murder conspiracies and many others. We are familiar with how prosecutors charge conspiracy and the defenses needed to obtain a successful outcome. Call the Henry Law Firm PLLC at 646-820-0224 to learn how our innovation and experience can help you.
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