You haven’t committed a crime yet, but you’ve discussed it. You and others have gone over your options, talked about ways to pull it off, and discussed the potential benefits of the crime. Perhaps it is a financial crime or a drug-related crime. You know that it’s a federal offense.
Before any major action takes place, you become concerned that it’s not a good idea. You tell the others that you’re not going to do it, and you step away from the discussions. You could still be charged with a crime.
The crime of conspiracy
The issue here is that the conspiracy to commit a crime is also illegal in its own right. Legal statutes have been crafted to address this specific issue. For instance, Statute 18 U.S.C. 371 “outlaws conspiracy to commit any other federal crime.”
An example may be moving illegal drugs across state lines. This is federally illegal, regardless of the laws within each of those states. If you made plans to do this and even took minor actions to do it, such as renting a car or setting up a schedule that you can all follow, then you have engaged in a conspiracy to break federal drug laws.
You are not required to actually break those laws to face the conspiracy charges. You may never cross state lines with illegal drugs in your car. But that does not mean that you’re not going to get out of all charges if an agent discovers what’s going on and arrests you.
Of course, the charges for conspiracy are different than charges for having actually committed the crime, but it’s still important to know about all of your potential legal defense options. Don’t assume that walking away from the conspiracy absolves you of all blame.