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Small Acts, Big Trouble: The Meaning of a Federal Conspiracy Charge

You gave your buddy a little money and now you are under arrest. Or you worked for a company and the CEO got into big trouble…and now you’re in big trouble too. What’s happening here?

What’s happening is you’re being accused of criminal conspiracy, and depending on what the other person did you could be facing some serious penalties.

See also: 7 Signs You’re Under Federal Investigation.

What Is Criminal Conspiracy

Federal law says a criminal conspiracy gets created when at least two people agree to do something illegal, and each person commits some sort of act in furtherance of the crime. The act doesn’t have to be large. It literally can be as small as lending the other person your car.

Anything that you do knowingly in furtherance of that crime is in itself a crime.

Obviously, one defense to this charge is that you didn’t know. You’re an employee, you did what you were told, you were the right hand who had no idea what the left hand was doing…you may have a defense. Your buddy said he needed the car to go to a doctor’s appointment, and then he went out and bought a bunch of drugs…you may have a defense. 

The key at that point would be proving you didn’t realize that any of the resources you provided or acts you committed were in furtherance of a crime, nor did you agree to commit a crime. And the federal government would have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

But this can be a hard sell in some cases. That’s why we have to keep our eye on other options. The first is immunity, which got covered in a previous post. The second is downward departure.

By the way, don’t try to convince the investigators of your innocence. You will probably just end up making their case for them. Leave the defending to your lawyer.

Downward Departure

Downward departure is a fancy term for a reduced sentence that does not meet federal mandatory minimums for crimes. This is an option for those who cooperate with the federal government, telling them what they know of the crime that’s been committed and agreeing to testify in court.

This may be your only option if your information is just one cog in a greater machine and therefore not as valuable as the information an immune informer may provide. But it is one way to get a sentence reduced when you had the bad judgement to allow loyalty to a friend or family member take you down a criminal path.

Are there other options?

Maybe. It depends on the circumstances of your case. For example, you may have a shot at winning your case at trial.

If you’re not sure what to do, you need expert guidance. Don’t try to make these decisions alone…the government has plenty of resources to throw at you when they want to.