Getting charged with a federal crime may require less action on your part that you thought. For instance, when it comes to conspiracy charges, all you have to do is plan to do something illegal with another person and take one small step toward doing it. This one action gets a lot of people caught up in a serious situation.
Many people, who get slapped with federal conspiracy charges in Virginia are caught off guard. They may think it’s all a misunderstanding, but an experienced attorney should be their first call. Federal conspiracy carries severe penalties and serious damage to one’s reputation.
If you are facing a federal conspiracy charge in Virginia, contact Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico as soon as you can. Call (540) 343-9349 for a free and confidential consultation. Our conspiracy charge defense attorneys will assess the situation and explain your next steps.
What Is a Conspiracy Charge?
Charging someone with conspiracy means accusing them of conspiring with someone else to commit an illegal act and then taking some step toward carrying out that act.
You don’t have to commit any sort of crime to be charged with conspiracy in Virginia at the state or federal level. The “step toward carrying out that act” is called an overt act in criminal law. This act has to show that you intended to break the law but not that it was broken.
To prove a conspiracy charge, a prosecutor has to show:
- Two or more people were involved
- Those involved agreed to violate federal law
- The agreement was made intentionally
- The conspirators committed an overt act to further the plan
The agreement does not have to be formal. A simple conversation about transporting drugs or a committing a fraud counts. However, the “over act” requirement is meant to keep prosecutors from charging people with conspiracy due to a simple conversation.
When Is a Conspiracy a ‘Federal’ Crime?
The basic elements of a conspiracy charge are the same at the state and the federal level. So, what makes a conspiracy charge “federal” in Virginia? The following factors can lead to federal conspiracy charges rather than state conspiracy charges:
- The alleged crime crossed state lines
- The alleged crime was a violation of federal law – not just Virginia law
Conspiracy cases that end up in federal court tend to be significant, involving serious crimes and multiple defendants.
Here are some common crimes that will send you to federal court:
- Drug trafficking. Possessing or selling large amounts of illegal drugs can get you charged with federal conspiracy alongside a drug trafficking charge. Keep in mind that federal prosecutors won’t always pursue conspiracy charges if they aren’t interested in the drugs involved. This is often the case with marijuana, but cocaine and heroin often get picked up by federal prosecutors.
- Organized criminal activity in violation of the RICO Act. While the RICO Act is a federal law, federal prosecutors prefer to pursue this charge when there is a pattern of racketeering activity within a criminal enterprise rather than a one-off crime.
- Sex trafficking. Sex trafficking allegations can almost always qualify as federal crimes, but they aren’t likely to be charged federally unless there is evidence of a larger pattern of sex trafficking activity. In smaller or single cases, the feds often leave the charge to the state prosecutors.
- Large-scale fraud. Fraud and conspiracy charges often go hand in hand. The alleged fraud is usually of large scale and involves federally regulated securities, federal taxes, the U.S. mail, or similar federally controlled entities.
- Terrorist activity. Both Virginia and the federal government have terrorism laws on the books, but federal terrorism charges usually involve foreign actors and/or actions against federal property.
Penalties for Federal Conspiracy
The maximum punishment for felony conspiracy alone is five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines at the federal level. While most federal conspiracy charges will be felonies, in cases when the charge is a misdemeanor, the penalty cannot exceed the maximum punishment for the planned crime itself.
Unfortunately, conspiracy is almost never charged alone. It almost always comes with a separate charge, such as drug or sex trafficking. The penalties for those could range from a few years in federal prison to life behind bars. Also, note that Virginia has separate rules for conspiracy charges.
A Lawyer Can Help With Federal Conspiracy Charges
At both the state and federal levels, conspiracy charges are serious. If you are convicted of federal criminal conspiracy, you could face years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. And that is not to mention the social stigma, limited employment, and many other effects of a conviction.
A trusted Virginia criminal defense lawyer could help. We can gather evidence to build your defense, look for holes in the prosecution’s case, and fight to get your charges dropped or reduced.