Many defendants first find out that they are facing white-collar charges when they receive an indictment via certified mail from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A copy of the indictment is generally accompanied by a letter letting the defendant know of their upcoming arraignment date and the penalties they face if they fail to attend this court hearing.
By the time the U.S. Attorney’s Office sends out this letter, they have already conducted a thorough investigation into any impropriety that they suspect you of having taken part in. Federal prosecutors will have already presented evidence in your case and had witnesses testify in front of a grand jury by the time you receive that indictment in hand too.
You might notice in reviewing an indictment that conspiracy is one of the charges you face. It’s commonplace for anyone facing white-collar charges to also face conspiracy charges.
You may wonder how prosecutors decided to also file charges for that particular offense against you. An explanation of why this happens and what that means for your case is detailed below.
What constitutes conspiracy?
The federal statute regarding conspiracy is Title 18 United States Code (USC) § 371. This statute details that a conspiracy involves two or more individuals collaborating to violate federal laws.
This statute clearly states that defendants can face conspiracy charges in instances where they devise a plan to violate federal law themselves or join a pre-existing plan to do so.
How do federal prosecutors prove that a conspiracy occurred?
Prosecutors have the burden to prove that crimes occurred, including conspiracy. Since a conspiracy involves two or more people combining their efforts to commit fraud or another white-collar crime, prosecutors must be able to prove that this is what actually happened.
One example of how the U.S. Attorney’s Office may meet their burden of proof is by showing that a defendant committed an overtly illegal act after agreeing with others to do so. Federal judges will generally give jurors instructions to convict defendants on conspiracy charges if they believe that prosecutors successfully met their burden of proof.
Penalties associated with conspiracy convictions
Federal white collar crimes carry their own host of penalties, including potential prison time, supervised release and restitution. Penalties are even stiffer if a judge or jury convicts a defendant on conspiracy charges in addition to white collar ones.
The federal government’s sentencing guidelines call for a 5-year prison term, and a $250,000 fine for each conspiracy count that a defendant is convicted of. You will want to carefully weigh these penalties when deciding how to proceed in your case.