Federal Criminal Conspiracy

A conspiracy is an agreement between two or more parties to commit a criminal act. One of the most common federal conspiracy charges that an individual may face is a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute illegal narcotics.  However, an individual can be charged with conspiracy to commit any number of offenses such as: conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit bank robbery, conspiracy to commit Medicare fraud, and conspiracy to transport undocumented aliens.

Why Would The Government Charge Someone With A Federal Conspiracy?

The federal government will usually charge someone with a federal conspiracy if it believes that more than one person was involved in the commission of a federal crime.  In other words, the Government believes that the accused made an agreement with at least one other person to commit a criminal act. The Government will usually charge every individual alleged to have participated in the conspiracy and include them on the same indictment (charging instrument).

The most important thing to point out in a conspiracy case is that there is no requirement for the government to prove that the actual offense occurred.  The Government need only prove that there was an agreement for the offense to occur.  

For example, if the government charges two or more persons with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, then the government need not prove that any one of the accused actually possessed or distributed narcotics only that there was an agreement to do so. In the case of possession with intent to distribute narcotics, the government must also prove that at least one or more of the accused individuals took a substantial step toward completing the offense.

What Does The Prosecution Need To Prove In A Conspiracy Case?

It depends on the statute the government charges in the indictment, and it also depends on the jurisdiction. There are some different case laws around the country in terms of the various federal circuits and what each has ruled the government needs to prove for a conspiracy conviction in that jurisdiction. But, generally speaking, there are two types of conspiracy statutes. You’ll have a statute where the government needs to prove that two or more persons entered into an agreement to violate federal law and that the agreement was joined by each individual knowingly and on purpose and not by mistake or accident.

Under other statutes, the government must additionally prove that at least one of the defendants did something in furtherance of the conspiracy which is called an “overact.”

What Are The Criminal Penalties Of A Federal Conspiracy Charge?

Almost every federal charge carries the possibility of significant prison time. The criminal penalties for a federal conspiracy charge will depend on the underlying offense that the government is alleging was committed. For example, in a federal drug conspiracy case, the punishment range that an individual is facing will depend on the weight of the illegal narcotics that were allegedly possessed.  An accused will also be held responsible for all “relevant conduct.”

Relevant conduct, which applies in all federal cases, includes “all acts and omissions” committed by the defendant during the commission of the offense of conviction. United States Sentencing Guideline Section 1B1.3(a)(1)(A).

In the case of a “jointly undertaken criminal activity” or conspiracy, relevant conduct also includes “all acts and omissions of others” that were “within the scope” of the jointly undertaken criminal activity, were “in furtherance” of that activity, and were “reasonably foreseeable” in connection with that activity. United States Sentencing Guideline Section 1B1.3(a)(1)(B)(a)-(iii).

This means that an individual could not only be held criminally liable for all the drugs that he possessed during a drug conspiracy but he could also be held responsible for all the drugs that were possessed by any other member of the conspiracy.  For example, if Defendant A was only dealing cocaine but his partner, Co-defendant B, was also dealing methamphetamine as part of the same scope of conduct, Defendant A could be held responsible for distributing methamphetamine even though he never touched or saw the methamphetamine himself.


Attorney Jorge Vela has extensive experience in each of the cases listed above.

Experienced Federal Criminal Trial Attorney

Jorge Vela spent nearly three years as a federal prosecutor along the U.S – Mexico border.   As a federal prosecutor, he was tasked with investigating violent Mexican drug cartels that were smuggling narcotics, weapons, and aliens across the border.  He worked closely with special agents from the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the State Department, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement on hundreds of federal cases.

If you or a loved one has been accused of a federal crime, your first question to your attorney should be “what kind of federal experience do you have?” Because of the serious nature of federal offenses, it is ABSOLUTELY imperative that you hire a criminal attorney with federal trial experience. As a former federal prosecutor, Jorge Vela knows exactly how to fight your federal charges.

Hire an attorney you can trust. Contact the Law Office of Jorge Vela for a consultation today.

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