North Carolina Conspiracy Defense Lawyers
Title 18, United States Code, Section 371 states that if “two or more persons conspire to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”
The statute has broad application and covers a range of crimes in which the federal government is a victim, including bank fraud, drug trafficking, and the presentment of fraudulent claims to the federal government (also proscribed by the False Claims Act). Importantly, however, a conspiracy to defraud the United States does not require an underlying federal criminal offense. Instead, the statute criminalizes the impairment, obstruction, or defeat of the lawful functions of the Government by means of deceipt, trickery or dishonesty.
If the object of the conspiracy is a felony offense, a defendant faces up to 5 years imprisonment upon conviction. Fines can reach up to $250,000. Restitution and forfeiture are additional sanctions upon conviction.
Importantly, Section 371 is not the only federal conspiracy statute. In fact, there are dozens. Additionally, while Section 371 requires the defendant to commit an “overt act” in furtherance of the conspiracy, other laws simply require an agreement to commit an illegal act without any over act at all. Other than a few exceptions, a conspiracy crime is complete the very moment two people agree to break the law. Also, in trial, incriminating statements by one co-conspirator may be admitted as evidence against all.
The law in this area can be incredibly complex and confusing. Nonetheless, the vast number of federal laws criminalizing conspiracies, aiding and abetting, and attempted criminal acts can leave unsuspecting people suddenly facing a federal prosecution.