Federal "Conspiracy" Laws (18 U.S.C. § 371)
Explained by Nevada Criminal Defense Attorneys

Img conspiracy

Conspiring to commit a crime is a crime in itself under federal law. A conviction for conspiracy carries high fines and possibly several years in prison. But the charges could be reduced or perhaps dropped altogether with an adroit Nevada criminal defense attorney helming the case.

This article explains federal conspiracy law in Nevada. Keep reading to learn the definition of conspiracy, effective defenses, and common punishments.


Like it sounds, the legal definition of "conspiracy" in federal law in Nevada is when two or more people agree ("conspire") to commit a crime. Conspiracy is typically charged in conjunction with the crime that the defendant(s) allegedly aspired to carry out. A common example is a defendant being charged with both trafficking drugs and conspiring to traffic drugs.

The federal offense of conspiracy has two "elements" which the prosecution needs to prove to sustain a conviction. They are:

  1. the defendant made an agreement to commit a crime, and
  2. there was an "overt act" that advanced the alleged conspiracy

Note that the agreement may be verbal and does not need to be in writing. Tonopah NV criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse illustrates what an "overt act" is:

Example: Xander and Yon live in Reno and agree to rob a bank. They then buy ski masks and guns. The U.S. Marshals Service catch wind of their plan and book them at the Washoe County
Detention Center
for conspiracy before they can carry out the robbery.

Xander and Yon's "overt action" of buying the ski masks and guns is sufficient to invite a conspiracy charge because it furthers their plan to commit the federal crime of bank robbery. It is irrelevant that they never carried out the crime because conspiracy is an "inchoate" offense, which means a person may be convicted of it whether or not the underlying offense ever happened or was even attempted. Henderson NV criminal defense attorney Michael Becker explains this concept:

Example: Tom is a drug dealer in Henderson. He asks Tim to launder the money from his next drug deal. Tim agrees, and he compiles small bills to give to Tom for when he transfer the drug money to him, but the drug deal then falls through. Tom and Tim could still be booked at the Henderson NV Detention Center for conspiracy to commit the federal crime of money laundering because of their agreement and Tim's "overt act" of compiling small bills.

So if the drug deal had gone through and Tim did launder the money, then they could also be charged with the federal crime of money laundering. Obviously, Tom would face drug charges as well.

Note that federal law has one general conspiracy statute that covers conspiracy to commit most crimes (18 U.S.C. § 371). But there are also a few crime-specific conspiracy statutes, which include:

  • Conspiracy to commit the federal crime of racketeering (18 U.S.C. § 1962)
  • Conspiracy to monopolize trade (15 U.S.C. § 2)
  • Conspiracy to restrain trade (15 U.S.C. § 1)
  • Conspiracy to commit the federal crime of sports bribery (18 U.S.C. § 224)
  • Conspiracy against citizens' rights (18 U.S.C. § 241)

Each of these statutes provides different penalties, which are listed below in the penalties section.

Federal v. Nevada state law

It is easier to be convicted of violating Nevada conspiracy laws than federal conspiracy laws. This is because Nevada has no "overt act" requirement . . . simply agreeing to commit a crime is sufficient to warrant prosecution in Nevada state court.

Note that only two Nevada courthouses hear federal conspiracy cases: The Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse, which is located in Las Vegas, and the Bruce R. Thompson Federal Courthouse, which is located in Reno.


There are two main defenses to federal conspiracy allegations in Nevada: 1) There was no agreement, and 2) There was no overt act.

  • There was no agreement. The Bruce R. Thompson Federal Courthouse may have a very difficult time proving this element if the agreement was not written and there is no physical evidence of an agreement. As long as the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant agreed to commit a crime, then he/she should not be held criminally liable.
  • There was no overt act. It is necessary for the prosecution to show that there was an "overt act" that furthered the conspiracy in order to sustain a conviction. If the defense attorney can show that the defendant's actions did not have a sufficient nexus with the alleged conspiracy, then the conspiracy charge should be dropped.


The penalty for the federal crime of conspiracy turns on the specific conspiracy offense that the defendant has been convicted of. For the general conspiracy statute (18 U.S.C. § 371), the sentence is a fine and/or up to five years in Federal Prison. However if the underlying offense is only a misdemeanor, then the sentence cannot exceed the maximum penalty of that misdemeanor.

The sentence for conspiracy to commit the federal crime of racketeering (18 U.S.C. § 1962) is up to twenty years in prison and a $250,000 fine. But if the conspiracy included murder, then the sentence can be life.

The sentence for conspiracy to monopolize trade (15 U.S.C. § 2) or conspiracy to restrain trade (15 U.S.C. § 1) is ten years in prison and up to $1,000,000 in fines.

The sentence for conspiracy to commit the federal crime of sports bribery (18 U.S.C. § 224) is five years in prison.

The sentence for conspiracy against citizens' rights (18 U.S.C. § 241) is ten years in prison. But if the matter included the actual or attempted Nevada crime of kidnapping, Nevada crime of aggravated sexual abuse, or Nevada crime of murder, then the Nevada Federal Court may impose the death penalty in Nevada.

Nevada state penalties

Penalties for a conviction of conspiracy in Nevada state court depends on the underlying offense. Read more about the penalties at our article on the Nevada crime of conspiracy.

Note that it is not a double jeopardy violation for a defendant to be convicted of both conspiracy and the crime which he/she allegedly conspired to do. They are separate crimes.

Arrested? Call . . . .

If you have been charged in federal court with "conspiracy" in Nevada, call our Nevada federal criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free meeting in Las Vegas or by telephone. We will try our best to negotiate or litigate the most favorable resolution possible for your matter.



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