Known as the general conspiracy statute, 18 U.S. Code section 371, makes it a federal crime to conspire with one or more other people to commit another federal offense, including fraud, or to defraud a federal agency.
With skill and professionalism, the white collar criminal defense attorneys at The Blanch Law Firm defend clients facing federal fraud crimes and related conspiracy charges. Clients benefit from the attorneys’ considerable experience and the team-centered approach to pursuing justice. Contacting an attorney at the first sign of an investigation can make a difference in your case. Of course, we provide remarkable advocacy at any point in a case.
A conspiracy to defraud charge is filed if two or more people work together to commit any federal fraud crime.
By its nature, a conspiracy charge is filed along with a fraud charge. Some related fraud charges include bank fraud, bankruptcy fraud, Medicare fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, credit card fraud, investment fraud, and securities fraud.
To prove a fraud conspiracy charge, the government must prove that at least one person in the alleged conspiracy took action to effect the object of the conspiracy. Thus, one viable defense is to challenge evidence suggesting one person took action. Our attorneys also challenge any allegations of a relationship, agreement, or intended agreement between alleged conspirators. We also seek evidence showing that our client never intended to carry out the fraud.
Section 371 conspiracies are punishable by imprisonment for up to five years and a fine. The exception is for conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor crime, in which case the conspiracy charge punishment must not exceed the maximum punishment for the misdemeanor.
The 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution is one of the most important provisions for criminal defendants because it outlines a defendant’s “right to confrontation.”
What is the “Right to Confrontation?”
The right to confrontation was is derived from the 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The right to confrontation was further defined in a case commonly referenced as Bruton.
#1) Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968).
Basically, what the court in Bruton did was give clarification to the U.S. Constitution’s statement that the citizens of the United States have the “right to confront witnesses against him.”
The Court held that the meaning of this statement was that if someone offers allegations against you that are criminal in nature or that tends to support the allegation of criminal conduct, then you have a right to test the truth and veracity of that person’s statements through cross–examination and confronting them in a public forum.
What was the Landscape Before Bruton?
Prior to Bruton, while the United States Constitution and the 6th Amendment did not change, the court’s interpretation of the 6th Amendment was one that allowed for statements made by non-testifying co–defendants whether deemed non-testimonial or testimonial in nature were admitted in criminal trials.
Example: For example, Mike and John are accused of health care fraud or price gouging. Mike makes a statement to the authorities detailing discussions between him and John. His statement involves an agreement that was made to enhance the price of Lysol spray.
The case goes to trial and neither of the defendants pleads guilty. Mike exercises his right not to incriminate himself; meaning he will not testify.
By allowing the entirety of Mike’s statement to be admitted at trial would, in effect, incriminated John without John having the ability to cross-examine Mike.
What is the Landscape After Bruton?
In Bruton v. the United States, the Supreme Court held that those circumstances violated the 6th amendment of the United States constitution.
After Bruton was decided, many courts found that prosecutors – in an effort to comply with the Bruton decision – would have police officers testify to the entirety of the statement while not mentioning the co–defendant who didn’t make the statement, all while laying out the facts that related or applied to that codefendant.
Example: For example, using Mike and John from the scenario above, the police officer who took the statement from Mike would testify to everything that Mike allegedly said and at the point of referencing John’s name would say deleted or blank.
With two defendants being tried jointly, sitting at the defense table next to each other, you could only imagine the prejudice indifference that was going on at trial.
What is the Takeaway from Bruton?
The takeaway from Bruton is that any direct reference of a defendant or inference to a defended that stems from a non-testifying co-defendant would not be permitted.
A non-testifying co-defendant‘s statement is required to be sanitized in a way where it appeared that the non-testifying witness only incriminated himself and no one else.
Like with other aspects of criminal defense though, any damage that can be done or prevented based upon Bruton and its interpretation would have to be done prior to trial.
The reason why preventive measures must be taken before trial is due to an issue that was addressed in 2004 when the United States Supreme Court again addressed the 6th amendment of the United States Constitution in a case titled Crawford v. Washington.
#2) Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2003).
In Crawford v. Washington, there was a domestic violence allegation against Crawford.
Crawford’s wife did not want to testify at Crawford’s criminal trial because defense counsel had been successful in arguing that marital privilege allowed Mrs. Crawford not to testify.
However, the prosecution went on to persuade the judge that Mrs. Crawford’s statement could be admitted if made to someone other than a prosecutor, a law enforcement officer, or a judicial officer.
In Crawford, the United States Supreme Court now injected into consideration whether the 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibited the admission of non-testifying witnesses if the information was gained in what would be considered a “non-testimonial capacity” versus a “testimonial capacity.”
What is “Non-Testimonial Capacity” v. “Testimonial Capacity?”
For clarity, the United States Supreme Court found that “non–testimonial statements” between friends, co–conspirators, family members and other non-law enforcement or government agents could in fact be admitted at a criminal trial without violating the 6th amendment of the United States Constitution.
This indicated that only statements made that would be deemed “testimonial” in nature would violate the United States Constitution if it was made without the witness having testified at trial and having faced cross–examination.
Are There Any Other Exceptions to the Confrontation Clause?
An additional exception to the confrontation clause that’s worth noting in this discussion is the fact that witnesses, in general, who provide even testimonial statements to law enforcement or government agents can have their statements admitted at a trial without testifying.
This may happen under the following circumstances:
- If it is proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the witness’s availability is a result of misconduct conducted by the defendant was someone on the defendant’s behalf or request; or
- If the witness as already been cross-examined in another proceeding such as a deposition or a prior criminal trial.
What is the Takeaway Regarding the “Right to Confrontation?”
In sum, the 6th Amendment’s “right to confrontation” – like all other constitutional rights – is not an absolute right. This means that there are a number of caveats or exceptions to the original Bruton decision (discussed above) and the clarification that came through the Crawford decision (also discussed above).
This summary of Bruton and Crawford is not an exposé on the breadth and depth of the “right to confront witnesses,” it is more advisory for individuals who believe that they may come under investigation or who are facing criminal charges to be aware of the fact that things that they do outside of the criminal conduct itself can damage their ability to successfully defend against a criminal charge.
How Do These Court Decisions Impact Your Criminal Defense Practice?
From a practical standpoint, one of the biggest problems that we see when defending individuals from criminal charges and allegations is when a defendant decides to share information with their friends or with their significant other.
Defendants also must be careful when sharing information through social media platforms and even through things like their music and poems.
Whether we agree with the application of the Crawford interpretation to Bruton or not, most courts in most states and federal jurisdictions have done so and will continue to do so.
This is why it’s always advised for someone under criminal investigation or facing criminal charges to exercise their right to remain silent during questioning by law enforcement officers and to immediately consult a criminal defense attorney.
In March 2014, six people were charged with conspiring to defraud the Newspaper and Mail Deliverers’ Union and Hudson News in order to obtain a union card and job at Hudson News for the son of an organized crime underboss.
Call Us Now
Our criminal defense attorneys have experience defending charges related to conspiracy and fraud and are here to help guide you through government investigations and criminal litigation at the state and federal level.
For your free and confidential attorney phone consultation, call us now at (212) 736-3900.