What Are the Elements of Conspiracy To Distribute Charges?

Vials of powdered drugs atop a table covered with $100 bills.

Federal drug conspiracy charges are as serious as they sound, sometimes carrying millions of dollars in penalties and landing the convicted in prison for life, but what are the elements of conspiracy to distribute charges? And is there any hope if you’ve been charged with federal drug conspiracy?

Conspiracy to distribute charges often hinge on several key elements that must be present for a conviction including:

  • Agreement: For a conspiracy to exist, there must be an explicit or implied agreement between two or more individuals to engage in the distribution of illegal substances.
  • Intention: The accused parties must have intended to carry out the illegal activity of drug distribution.
  • Overt Act: To prove conspiracy to distribute charges, there must be some overt act taken by one or more of the involved parties in furtherance of the illegal agreement.
  • Knowledge: Each individual involved in the conspiracy must know about the agreement and its intended purpose.
  • Jurisdiction: The conspiracy must occur within the jurisdiction of the court in which the charges are brought.
  • Substance: Finally, there must be a substance involved in the conspiracy.

These elements are crucial because without meeting all of them, the accused parties cannot be convicted of conspiracy to distribute charges. However, it’s important to note that each case is unique and the specific elements required for a conviction may vary depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances surrounding the alleged conspiracy.

Javier Guzman, a winning federal criminal lawyer and the only ACS-CHAL Forensic Lawyer-Scientist in Laredo, is here to talk about all things federal drug conspiracy.  

What is a conspiracy charge?

In general, conspiracy charges are brought upon people who agree to conspire to commit an unlawful act. Conspiracy charges are distinctly about the planning before the actual planned crime takes place, and are therefore usually additional charges on top of charges for the act itself. 

That being said, drug distribution technically does not have to take place for someone to be charged with conspiracy to distribute — just the collaboration between two or more people intending to commit the unlawful act. 

The general conspiracy statute (18 U.S.C. § 371) cannot actually be used to charge a drug conspiracy case. Drug conspiracy charges are located in the federal drug conspiracy statute, 21 U.S.C. § 846, which criminalizes conspiracies to commit offenses including the distribution of, manufacture of, or possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances.

What are the elements of conspiracy to distribute?

While the punishments are steep and the cases are complex, charges for federal conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance are quite simple. The main elements of any drug conspiracy charge are as follows:

  1. You agreed to aid in the distribution of a controlled substance. 
  2. You were aware that the substance and therefore your actions were illegal.
  3. You chose to continue the conspiracy despite this. 

The two other important things to remember about drug conspiracy charges are this:

  • You do not need to distribute drugs to be charged with conspiring to distribute them. 
  • If you do distribute as well as conspire to distribute, you will likely be charged with distribution of a controlled substance and conspiracy to do so. 

On the above two notes, U.S.C. § 846 specifically states that “any person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense defined in this subchapter shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.”

What is the sentence for conspiracy to distribute?

Felony conspiracy jail time will vary based on the amount and type of controlled substance you conspired to distribute. Under 21 U.S.C. § 846 and 21 U.S.C. § 841 the statutory penalties for conspiracy to distribute are as follows.

CrimeSubstance Possessed and AmountMaximum FinePrison Time
Use of a telephone facility for drug trafficking crimeN/A$250,000Up to 4 years
Use of a firearm during a drug trafficking crimeN/A$250,0005 years – life
Conspiracy to Distribute< 1 gram LSD< 5 grams methamphetamine< 28 grams crack cocaine< 100 grams heroin< 500 grams cocaine< 100 kilograms marijuana$1 millionUp to 20 years
Conspiracy to Distribute>1 gram LSD> 5 grams methamphetamine> 28 grams crack cocaine>100 grams heroin> 500 grams cocaine> 100 kilograms marijuana$5 million5 – 40 years
Conspiracy to Distribute> 10 grams LSD> 50 grams methamphetamine> 280 grams crack cocaine> 1 kilogram heroin> 5 kilograms cocaine> 1000 kilograms marijuana$10 million10 years – life

Although punishments for conspiracy to distribute are already about as steep as you can imagine, these charges can also be enhanced under a couple of circumstances:

  • If an individual dies or is seriously injured because of using the controlled substances involved in the conspiracy case. 
  • If you are being charged with drug conspiracy and already have prior convictions for felony drug crimes. 

Additionally, you can still be charged with conspiracy to distribute for conspiring to distribute any drugs not listed in the above table. Say you are charged with possession of fentanyl, or another opiate or analogue, with intent to distribute. Your charge will be based on whatever the federal scheduling for that drug is (in fentanyl’s case it would be Schedule II) and the amount possessed. 

Continue reading: How much weed is a felony?

How a federal criminal attorney may get federal drug conspiracy cases dismissed

Because federal drug conspiracy cases are often not the only charge you will be facing, your attorney will have to fight for your rights on many fronts. Just because getting federal drug conspiracy cases dismissed is incredibly difficult it does not mean that it is impossible. While every federal drug case is unique, the following strategies may be employed in your defense:

  1. Insufficient evidence. If the prosecution fails to establish a genuine agreement, shared intent, or any overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy, your attorney may argue that the evidence is insufficient to support a conviction.
  2. Fourth Amendment violations. If the government obtained evidence through a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights, a suppression motion may be filed, seeking to exclude such evidence and weaken the prosecution’s case.
  3. Lack of intent or knowledge. If your attorney can demonstrate that you were unaware of the conspiracy’s illegal objectives or did not possess the requisite intent, it may form the basis for a strong defense.
  4. Withdrawal from the conspiracy. If your lawyer can show that you withdrew from the conspiracy before any overt act occurred, they may argue that you should not be held criminally liable for the conspiracy.

No matter how your attorney constructs your defense, they will need to know how to fight complex drug charges in a federal court. If you plan on keeping your freedom intact, make sure you hire a federal criminal lawyer who knows how to beat a drug trafficking charge, charges for conspiracy to distribute, or any other drug charges related to your case. 

Facing conspiracy to distribute charges? Call Guzman Law Firm today. 

Federal conspiracy to distribute charges presents serious legal challenges that require specialized and aggressive defense to combat. Although federal drug charges might seem like an insurmountable barrier, you must remember that a charge is not a conviction. There is still hope as long as you have a talented and dedicated federal attorney by your side. 

Javier Guzman is an aggressive and experienced federal attorney in Texas. Whether you’re facing first-time drug possession charges in Texas or are looking at drug trafficking charges for federal marijuana possession, you can count on Guzman Law Firm to defend you under the toughest circumstances. 

If you or a loved one is facing federal drug charges in Texas, call Guzman Law Firm today at (956) 516-7198 or contact us online to begin defending your freedom. 

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