There are crimes under federal law, and then there are inchoate crimes. These are crimes that do not fulfill all the elements of any crime on the books but are still considered to be criminal acts.
Conspiracy is an example of an inchoate crime. It is one of the most common charges that federal prosecutors bring against people in Miami and South Florida, partly because they have to prove relatively little. To convince a jury in federal court that the defendant was part of a criminal conspiracy, the prosecutor must prove five things:
- The defendant and at least one other person
- make an agreement
- to violate federal law or defraud the U.S., and
- one of the participants takes some overt act in furtherance of the agreement
As you can see, most of these elements involve nothing more than two or more people planning to break the law. No laws have actually been broken. For example, say two people decide to defraud people over the internet. One of them researches how to do it, then decides it sounds too risky. The two people drop the scheme.
Neither of them ever committed wire fraud, but if federal law enforcement finds out about it, they could be arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. And the penalties for a conviction are up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, if the underlying crime is a felony.
Conspiracy charges are serious business
Your participation in the alleged conspiracy can range from being the leader of the group to taking a minor role, like driving a car or letting others keep a suitcase in your garage. If you are charged with conspiracy, you need to take it seriously.