Why prosecutors often add conspiracy to charges

Back in May we talked about conspiracy charges requiring three elements. These elements are (1) an agreement to do something illegal, (2) willing participation in the plan or agreement and (3) at least one “overt act” that moved the agreement forward. Prosecutors commonly include conspiracy charges with other white collar, drug and robbery charges because it is a legal catchall.

Understanding the laws that relate to conspiracy

The U.S. conspiracy statue (U.S. Code at 18 U.S.C. Section 371) is broad. The gist of the law is that it is a federal crime for two or more people to “conspire” or plan to defraud the U.S. or “any agency thereof in any manner or purpose.”  At the state level, (Tennessee Code Title 39, Chapter 12) you may also be charged with conspiracy, with basically the same three requirements.

Prosecutors often include conspiracy charges in addition to criminal charges that relate to:

  • Drug (controlled substance) manufacture and distribution (U.S. Code at 18 U.S.C. Section 846)
  • Interstate robbery (U.S. Code at 18 Section 1951)
  • The corruption of public morals or or outrage of public decency (Tennessee Code Title 39 Section 39-14-406)
  • Trespass and assembly or mischief (disorderly conduct, criminal trespass or vandalism) (Tennessee Code Title 39 Section 17-305)

Prosecutors use conspiracy as a net. If they are unable to prove a person actually committed a crime, they seek to prove a person intended to commit one. The latter is far easier than the former.

The unfair nature of conspiracy charges in case history

In the United States we are believed to be innocent until proven guilty. This can be patently not true in conspiracy charges. One look at Pinkerton v. United States will show that even if you did not take action, you can be held responsible for the crimes of your alleged co-conspirators. This means in a conspiracy charge, one person’s role is not necessarily distinguished from another person’s role. A conspiracy charge also has no identifiable statute of limitations, as these charges are viewed by the court as “continuing offenses” as per Toussie v. United States. For drug charges, the “overt act” may not be necessary to prove, as United States v. Shabani highlights.

Whenever you are facing criminal charges it is advised to obtain qualified legal counsel. If the charges include conspiracy, it is in your best interest to work with an attorney who has proven experience and success in this matter.