In legal terms, conspiracy refers to a broad category of crimes, all involving multiple actors coming together in order to engage in criminal activity. There are specific federal anti-conspiracy statutes found throughout federal law, as well as state statutes which also contain anti-conspiracy laws.
Recently, a considerable number of white collar criminal prosecutions have included allegations of conspiracy. Generally speaking, a person or business is said to be guilty of conspiracy to commit a crime if they have done at least one of the following:
- Agrees with another person or business to engage in conduct which would constitute a crime, or an attempt or solicitation of a crime, with the purpose of facilitating or promoting its commission; and/or
- Agrees to aid another person or business in planning, committing, or attempting to solicit a crime.
Most conspiracy crimes can be categorized in one of the following two ways:
- Hub and Spoke Conspiracy: Many parties conspire with one person, but not with the other defendants. A hub and spoke conspiracy is considered to be advantageous for a defendant, as that means that the conspiracies are separate and disconnected; or
- Chain Conspiracy: A chain conspiracy involves several parties serving as links in one long criminal chain. A chain conspiracy is considered to be less advantageous for a defendant, as defendants in chain conspiracies are responsible for the actions of all participants in the chain. This remains true even if they never met some of the other participants in the chain.
In terms of the advantages of charging someone with criminal conspiracy, the largest would be obtaining information. Prosecutors generally learn of a conspiracy while it is in an early stage, and as such, they may be able to prosecute before the underlying crime actually takes place. Additionally, prosecutors may be allowed to charge defendants simultaneously, as well as present evidence against the group as a whole.
Evidence is considerably difficult to gather in criminal conspiracy cases. This is due to the fact that most of the conspiracy agreements must be inferred from what amount of evidence actually exists. As such, trial judges tend to have more sympathy for the prosecutors.
What Is a Drug Conspiracy? Does the Type of Drug Involved Make a Difference?
A drug conspiracy would be two or more people conspiring together, in order to commit a criminal act involving drugs. The criminal act can include one or more of the following examples:
- Drug Trafficking: This may also be referred to as drug distribution. It involves the sale, transportation, and illegal import of illegal drugs and controlled substances. Drug trafficking and drug dealing are not exactly the same thing, although they are very similar to each other. Because drug trafficking also involves the manufacture, transportation, and import of illegal drugs, you do not have to be caught selling the substances in order to face trafficking charges, if you are also involved in other related activities. Knowingly possessing the drugs is generally enough to support a drug trafficking charge;
- Drug Manufacturing: Although drug manufacturing laws vary by state, a person is generally considered to be guilty of manufacturing a drug when they produce an illegal substance, either through chemical synthesis or a natural extraction. This can also include packaging or repacking of the substance, or labeling and relabeling the drug’s container. Because there are often multiple people involved in the drug manufacturing process, anyone who is involved but was not physically manufacturing the drugs at the time of arrest may be charged with conspiracy; and/or
- Drug Selling: Once again, laws regarding what constitute drug selling vary on a state by state basis. Generally speaking, a person can be accused of drug selling when they transfer a controlled substance to another person.
An example of how a drug conspiracy works would be how one individual can make the drug, while another individual may be responsible for trafficking the drug. A third person is responsible for selling the drug.
The type of drug involved does not make any difference in a drug conspiracy case. This is because drug conspiracy involves anyone who knowingly helps to facilitate or further any controlled substance or narcotic through sale, distribution, or trafficking.
What Are the Elements Of a Drug Conspiracy Charge? What Evidence Is Needed to Prove a Drug Conspiracy Charge?
As previously mentioned, a drug conspiracy does not require the defendants to actually know each other. It must be shown that they communicate and work together, even if they do not actually know one another. An example of this would likely be a case involving two “spoke” defendants in a hub-and-spoke conspiracy.
In order to prove criminal conspiracy in general, there are two key elements that the prosecution must show in order to reach a guilty verdict. These are an agreement, and an “act in furtherance” of the conspiracy by one of the actors. The agreement need not be written, oral, or even explicit; it is often inferred from the facts of the specific case.
As such, if the parties meet and reach an understanding in order to work for a common purpose, there is an agreement in place. Additionally, most criminal conspiracy statutes require that at least one of the parties has committed an overt act in order to further the conspiracy.
To reiterate, a drug conspiracy charge does not require completing the manufacturing, distribution, sale, or possession of the drugs. The prosecutor only needs to prove that:
- The defendant actually entered into an agreement;
- This agreement was with at least one other individual; and
- At least one of the individuals involved in the agreement took an overt step in order to further the agreement.
Proving criminal conspiracy in general is often difficult. This is because there is often very little physical evidence of agreement if there is no contract, and the criminals would have to be extraordinarily thoughtless to create a written or otherwise physical contract in order to commit the crime in question.
As such, the best type of evidence would be a confession by one or more of the suspects. If a confession cannot be produced, prosecutors must do their best to infer agreement based on the circumstances. There are two inferences that may be used:
- Vested Interest: if the defendant has an interest in seeing the crime committed, a jury could reasonably infer that the defendant could agree to commit the crime. Generally speaking, the interest inferred is monetary; and
- No Legitimate Reason: the second inference would be if the defendant had no legitimate reason for aiding the criminals, beyond being involved in the crime themselves. This inference is generally made in cases in which one conspirator supplies the other conspirator(s) with the materials needed in order to commit the crime. An example of this would be how there is no legitimate reason for a bank teller to give patrons a map of the bank’s vaults, unless the patrons were planning to rob the bank later.
What Else Should I Know About Drug Conspiracy?
Whether a drug conspiracy charge is prosecuted on the state or federal level largely depends on who conducted the investigation. Meaning, if the federal government conducted the investigation, the crime will most likely be punished on the federal level. This can also depend on whether the conspiracy involved any intrastate activity.
Punishment for a state drug conspiracy charge depends solely on the state in which the case is being prosecuted. However, a federal conviction for drug conspiracy is approximately forty years in prison, plus a monetary fine. Additionally, how a drug conspiracy charge is punished can hinge on the type of defense being used.
Some defenses include:
- Lack of evidence beyond that of mere association, as a suspect being linked to or knowing another suspect is not enough to prove that there was a plan to commit a crime;
- All or nothing, as conspiracy depends on an agreement existing between the suspects of the group; and
- Specificity over generality. Many states have doctrines stating that if a suspect can be charged with both a specific crime and a general crime by using the same evidence, only the specific crime can be charged. This is especially helpful in conspiracy cases involving misdemeanors, due to the fact that conspiracy statutes are broad. Invoking the specificity doctrine as a defense could allow a defendant to escape the felony charge of conspiracy, and serve a misdemeanor sentence instead.
Do I Need an Attorney For Drug Conspiracy Charges?
If you are being accused of participating in a drug conspiracy, you will need to immediately consult with an experienced and local drug attorney. As varying state laws play a large role in drug conspiracy crimes, an attorney in your area will be best suited to understanding your state’s specific laws and how they will affect your case.
An attorney will be able to provide you a legal defense when possible, and protect your rights throughout the process. Finally, an attorney can also represent you in court.