What to Expect from a Federal Conspiracy Case

Below, DC federal conspiracy lawyer David Benowitz answers questions about what someone can expect from a federal conspiracy case.

What should someone facing conspiracy charges for the first time know about the charges?

David Benowitz: That person should know that they are extremely serious. It usually means that there are recorded communications or some sort of electronic evidence against at least one of the people in the conspiracy. It normally also means that someone has been cooperating, probably undercover. That is what it normally means. The other issue is who is a cooperating witness. Those are the main things that people need to look out for if they’ve been charge with a conspiracy.

What should an individual expect when they go to court for the first time?

David Benowitz: If you’re charged with conspiracy and you’re going to court for the first time in federal court, you should expect that there will be a battle over whether or not you are held in jail between the time that the case starts and the time that it finishes. There can be a very serious battle over that issue from the start.

In economic crimes, normally it’s not much of an issue. People normally aren’t held in jail while the case is going on, but it can be an issue. When you go to court for the first time, that issue is brought forth, as well as the conditions under which you’ll be released, if you are released. They will decide whether you have to report to a pre-trial services worker who will be supervising you, whether your movements will be restricted, and whether you have to take a drug test. All those sorts of issues come into play when you go to court for the first time. Also, when you go to court for the first time the charges will be read to you. If you’ve already been indicted or officially charged, you’ll receive a copy of the indictment. Typically in a conspiracy case you have been indicted, but if you haven’t been, you’ll be notified of what the charges are or what the complaint alleges. Then there will be a time set for the preliminary hearing. If you have been indicted and the government is seeking to hold you, you’ll be told when the detention hearing will be held.

What are the penalties associated with a conspiracy conviction?

David Benowitz: There are various penalties depending on the statute under which you are charged. For example, in federal statutes conspiracy to commit money laundering can carry up to 20 years in prison. But it depends on the specific type of conduct that was involved in the conspiracy.

How are federal conspiracy penalties determined?

The federal court determines the penalties using the United States Sentencing Guidelines. There is a very complicated set of rules that are used to determine an offense level. It is not mandatory, but once you’ve determined an offense level, the offense level is associated with a specific recommended sentence or guideline range. There is a whole host of case law dealing with these rules. It requires a lot of time and effort to determine and to advocate for the proper penalty or the lowest penalty for your client.

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