Contact the Chicago criminal defense law firm of Steven R. Hunter for legal advice and representation at trial on federal conspiracy charges. Call (312) 466-9466 to schedule an office consultation.
A conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to commit a criminal act. It has been called the darling of Federal prosecutors because it does away with the requirement that the prosecution proves that a defendant committed a crime. Instead, to convict a person of non-drug conspiracy, all a Federal prosecutor must prove is (1) an agreement to accomplish an illegal objective against the United States; (2) one or more overt acts in furtherance of that goal; and (3) an intent to commit the substantive offense. United States v. Cueto, 151 F.3d 620, 635 (7th Cir 1998). Drug conspiracies do not even require an overt act. See United States v. Shabani, 513 U.S. 10 (1994).
In addition, hearsay statements by co-conspirators made during the course of and in furtherance of the conspiracy are admissible evidence. See Federal Rule of Evidence 801 (d)(2)(E). For example, if the government has a tape of two alleged co-conspirators talking about a crime, and they mention the defendant, the tape will be played for the jury.
Also, a defendant convicted of a conspiracy will be held responsible for all acts of co-conspirators that were reasonably foreseeable and in furtherance of the conspiracy. Gray-Bey United States, 156 F.3d 733, 740 (7th Cir. 1998), citing Pinkerton United States, 328 U.S. 640 (1946). This is known as the "Pinkerton doctrine." This is true even if the defendant did not know of or participate in the substantive offense. For example, if a group of people agree to commit Hobbes Act robberies, and a defendant is told to go obtain a gun, he can be held responsible for a robbery that the gun was used in even if he did not go to the robbery or know of it, as long as it was reasonably foreseeable.
While membership in a conspiracy can be proven by circumstantial evidence and does not require a formal agreement, the evidence must be substantial to sustain a guilty verdict. United States v. Yusufu, 63 F.3d 505 (7th Cor. 1995). However, that substantial evidence can consist of a single act.
One possible defense to a conspiracy charge is the "mere presence" defense. The fact that a person may know members of a criminal conspiracy, may know of the existence of the conspiracy, and may even be present when the conspiracy is discussed is not enough to prove membership in the conspiracy. United States v. Knox, 68 F.3d 990(7th Cir. 1995).
Another possibility is lack of knowledge. The Seventh Circuit Pattern Jury Instruction 5.11 states that if a defendant performed acts that advanced a criminal activity but had no knowledge that a crime was being committed or was about to be committed, those acts alone are not sufficient to establish the defendant's guilt.
Occasionally a conspiracy charge can be attacked by arguing that there was no co-conspirator. The second person in a conspiracy cannot be an undercover agent or government informant. United States v. Duff, 76 F,3d 122 (7th Cir. 1996). The defendant does not have to know the identity or even the existence of everyone else in the conspiracy, or all of the activities of the other conspirators. The focus in a conspiracy case is on the agreement, not the group.
A defendant charged with conspiracy may argue there is more than one conspiracy and that the government proved his involvement in a different conspiracy than the one charged in the indictment. If the prosecution charges one conspiracy but proves another, this is called a variance. United States v. Mims, 92 F.3d 461 (7th Cir. 1996).
Other defenses, such as withdrawal, are also a possibility. To understand what possible defenses are available, you need the assistance of an experienced Federal criminal defense attorney. Call the Law Office of Steven R. Hunter today to schedule a consultation and explore the possible defenses for you or your loved one.
Drug conspiracies have the same basic elements as general criminal conspiracies. However, as noted above, they are easier to prove. No overt act is required. The government must simply show that (1) a conspiracy existed; (2) the defendant knew about the conspiracy; and (3) the defendant intended to join the conspiracy. It does not matter if a person actually engaged in drug sales. If he is on a wiretap tape conspiring with others to sell drugs, he is in serious danger of being convicted of a drug conspiracy.
One possible defense to a drug conspiracy is a buyer-seller relationship. A simple agreement to buy drugs from or sell drugs to another person is not a conspiracy. However, it is often hard to tell a simple buyer-seller agreement and a conspiracy apart, since an understanding that there will be a subsequent resale of the drugs may be enough to establish a conspiracy.