The federal criminal conspiracy law is one of the most, if not the most, powerful tools in the government’s arsenal. It is a nebulous free-for-all whereby every single action of the accused—sometimes spanning a period of twenty years or more—is scrutinized resulting in either unjust plea agreements or infamous show trials.
18 U.S.C. § 371—Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud United States if two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
If, however, the offense, the commission of which is the object of the conspiracy, is a misdemeanor only, the punishment for such conspiracy shall not exceed the maximum punishment provided for such misdemeanor.
Keep in mind that the government does not have to charge or prove that any substantive crime (i.e. drug trafficking, kidnapping, tax fraud, etc…) was committed by the accused in order to prevail in a conspiracy case. Further, “[T]he statute is broad enough in its terms to include any conspiracy for the purpose of impairing, obstructing, or defeating the lawful functions of any department of government.” Also, see United States v. Walter, 44 S. Ct. 10, 263 U. S. 15, 68 L. Ed. 137, (1923) and definitions of department and agency in section 6 of this title.) (Haas v. Henkel, 1909, 30 S. Ct. 249, 216 U. S. 462, 54 L. Ed. 569, 17 Ann. Cas. 1112 (1910))
Post-September 11th, America has seen the creation of countless security and other agencies where policing has risen to unprecedented levels. This phenomenon, along with the ever-changing geo-political climate both at home and abroad, will likely mean a dramatic increase in conspiracy prosecutions in both terrorism and non-terrorism cases.