The federal government looks at the crime of conspiracy a bit differently than other crimes. That’s because an individual can face conspiracy charges without physically committing a crime.

Per statute 18 U.S.C. § 371, you can be charged with conspiracy for simply agreeing to commit a federal crime with another person, even if you don’t actually accomplish the crime. With that in mind, individuals charged with conspiracy face prison time, fines, and a lifelong criminal record.

If you’re facing federal conspiracy charges, it’s in your best interest to consult with a proven federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Continue reading to learn more about federal conspiracy offenses.

What Constitutes Criminal Conspiracy?

According to the federal criminal codes, an individual can be charged with conspiracy if:

  • Two or more people conspire (i.e., agree) to commit a federal crime
  • Two or more people conspire to defraud the government or any government agency
  • One or more people involved in the crime take “overt” action to further the underlying crime(s)

It’s important to note that the government must prove that some type of agreement existed between two or more persons to commit a crime.

That means that mere jokes like “we should rob a bank” are not typically considered a conspiracy. However, if the intent is to actually rob a bank and one or more persons involved take action to further the plan, then it can be considered a conspiracy.

two men sitting at a table talking conspiracy

Additionally, the prosecution is not obligated to prove that the conspiracy led to losses. They are merely required to prove that there was intent to commit a federal crime, and someone involved in the conspiracy took action.  The agreement itself is the essence of the crime.  

Examples Of Criminal Conspiracy

Federal criminal conspiracy charges can be levied against anyone who agrees to commit or further a federal crime. That means that individuals can be charged with conspiracy if they agree with one or more people to commit the following crimes:

  • Armed robbery
  • Wire fraud
  • Drug trafficking
  • Sex trafficking
  • Assault
  • Terrorism

Individuals convicted of federal conspiracy may face harsher penalties depending on the seriousness of their charges. For example, the person who leads the planning and execution of the plan can expect a longer prison sentence than others involved.

Possible Penalties For A Federal Conspiracy Charge

The penalties for conspiracy convictions depend on a few factors. Individuals charged with conspiracy under statute 18 U.S.C. § 371 face up to five years imprisonment and up to $250,000 in fines. However, if an organization committed the conspiracy, a judge can impose fines of up to $500,000.

Further, individuals convicted of conspiracy to commit misdemeanor crimes cannot be punished more harshly than the maximum sentence of the original crime. It’s important to note that the penalties for conspiracy are in addition to penalties for the underlying crime committed.

For example, if an individual and his friend agree to deal drugs across state lines (and are successful), they may face drug trafficking and conspiracy penalties.

How To Defend Against Conspiracy Charges

If you’re at risk of going to prison for federal conspiracy charges, an experienced federal criminal defense attorney can possibly mount several defenses. They may include:

two people shaking hands and conspiring
  • No agreement existed: Since 18 U.S.C. § 371 doesn’t require physical evidence of an agreement (i.e., writing or text message), it can make it challenging to prove that no agreement existed. However, if it is true that no agreement was in place, then a proven attorney can help to raise this defense.
  • You were forced into the agreement: Federal conspiracy laws require willful intent. If you were forced to agree to a crime via violence or threats of violence, your federal criminal defense lawyer can mount a strong defense on your behalf.
  • No actions were taken to further the crime: Suppose two individuals plan to rob a bank, but no one takes any action to further the crime. In that case, neither individual is likely to be convicted of conspiracy. However, it’s important to note that an overt action could be as simple as observing (i.e., casing) the bank while considering the crime.

Can You Withdraw From A Conspiracy?

It’s important to note that a co-conspirator cannot just walk away from the plan that they have agreed to. However, they can potentially withdraw and absolve themselves of criminal charges if they:

  • Clearly communicate their intent to completely withdraw from the plan to all other co-conspirators
  • Withdraw before anyone apart of the agreement takes action to further the crime.


Michael Humphreys has spent more than 25 years with the United States Department of Justice as a federal prosecutor, including approximately 10 years in Washington, D.C., handling cases all over the United States. Up until the end of 2018, he was a federal prosecutor with the United States Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas. An attorney with a very broad range of criminal and civil experience, Michael is no stranger to the courtroom having been involved with high-stakes federal litigation. If you need powerhouse lawyers for your federal case, get Michael on your side. Michael handles federal criminal and civil matters across the United States.