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Federal Criminal Conspiracy

NCJ Number
American Criminal Law Review Volume: 46 Issue: 2 Dated: Spring 2009 Pages: 589-620
Heather J. Sigler
Date Published
31 pages
After reviewing the provisions of section 371 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, which makes it a crime to conspire to commit any offense against the United States or to defraud the United States, this article outlines defenses to charges under section 371, presents evidentiary and constitutional guidelines for admissibility of co-conspirator hearsay testimony at conspiracy trials, reviews procedural and substantive rules regarding enforcement, and addresses sentencing.
Criminal conspiracy has four elements, each of which the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Under the law, a conspiracy occurs when there is an agreement between at least two parties to achieve an illegal goal, with the parties possessing knowledge of and engaging in participation in the conspiracy; and at least one conspirator having committed an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. A conspiracy is distinct from the substantive crime contemplated by the conspirators and may be charged whether or not the substantive offense envisioned by the conspiracy occurred. Although acquittal on a conspiracy charge does not bar prosecution based on the substantive offense, acquittal on the substantive offense may bar conviction on the conspiracy count. Regarding defenses to a conspiracy charge, they are discussed under the following topical labels: statute of limitations, variance, multiplicitous indictment, insufficient indictment, and withdrawal, in addition to failure to prove some element required for a conspiracy to occur. Other defenses mentioned are insanity and coercion or duress. Conspiracy trial prosecutors often include testimony by co-conspirators in order to ensure a conviction. One section of the article discusses the co-conspirator exception to the hearsay rule. The discussion addresses evidentiary issues and sixth amendment concerns regarding the right to confront witnesses at trial. Other portions of the article discuss vicarious liability, joinder and severance, acquittal of other co-conspirators, and sentencing. 171 footnotes


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