FACING DRUG CONSPIRACY CHARGES IN LAS VEGAS?
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Drug conspiracy charges are common in many of the more serious Las Vegas drug cases. Generally, most drug charges in federal court involve a conspiracy count. While less common in state court, drug conspiracy charges occur frequently.
In general, a conspiracy can be thought of as a type of criminal partnership. Conspiracy is a crime which begins with a scheme and continues until its objective is either achieved or abandoned. The essence of criminal conspiracy is agreement. Conceptually, it is helpful to think of it as an agreement between two or more persons to commit one or more crimes. There is no such thing as a one person conspiracy. The law governing conspiracies does not require that the conspirators agreed on every detail of the conspiracy, rather, the law simply requires that the conspirators agreed to an illegal objective and acted in furtherance of that objective. A person becomes a member of a criminal conspiracy by willfully participating in the unlawful plan with the intent to further the purpose or objective of the plan. Finally, a person who intentionally joins an existing conspiracy is as responsible for it as much as the original members of the conspiracy.
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In the federal courts in Nevada, at least one of the conspirators must perform an overt act for conspiracy liability to attach. In state court, no overt act is required. It is enough for purposes of criminal liability that the conspirators simply agreed to commit an illegal act in concert. Perhaps most significantly in both state and federal court, members of the conspiracy are liable for the foreseeable crimes of their co-conspirators committed in furtherance of the common plot. This rule has carries with it huge consequences in most conspiracy cases. These general principles often apply in situations involving drug crimes. Common patterns of conduct seen in many drug cases often involve agreements between two or more people to commit a drug offense. Because many drug cases involve multiple actors, conspiracy counts are common.
DRUG CONSPIRACY CHARGES / COURTROOM EVIDENTIARY ISSUES
Prosecutors love being able to include drug conspiracy charges in a case. Including a conspiracy charge enables prosecutors to present all sorts of hearsay evidence which would otherwise be completely inadmissible in a non-conspiracy context. Co-conspirator statements are allowed into evidence as an exception to the hearsay rule. Usually, statements that are made by someone other than the witness testifying in court are not allowed into evidence. In conspiracy cases, the prosecutor may avoid this requirement because of the co-conspirator statement. Therefore in virtually every conspiracy case, the prosecutor will be able to present all the statements of each co-defendant so long as the statements were made during the course and in furtherance of the conspiracy.
The reason this is so problematic is that a mountain of incriminating statements can come into evidence without the ability of the defense to cross-examine the person who made the statement. The statements essentially come into evidence completely unchallenged. Skillful defense lawyering is required to counter this devastating prosecutorial tactic.
CONSPIRACY CHARGES IN NEVADA STATE COURT
Nevada law punishes a person convicted of drug conspiracy in the following manner:
- For a person convicted of Conspiracy to Violate the Uniform Controlled Substances Act first offense, a category C felony punishable by 1 to 5 years in Nevada State Prison.
- For a person convicted of Conspiracy to Violate the Uniform Controlled Substances Act second offense, a category B felony punishable by 2 to 10 years in Nevada State Prison.
- For a person convicted of Conspiracy to Violate the Uniform Controlled Substances Act third or subsequent offense, a category B felony punishable by 3 to 15 years in Nevada State Prison.
Under Nevada law, agreement of two or more persons is the essential element of the crime, and mere association is insufficient to support the charge of conspiracy. This issue is frequently the basis of an effective affirmative defense to conspiracy charges. Oftentimes, persons who have made no agreement to participate in a conspiracy, but hang around with, or live with, others who have agreed to participate in a conspiracy, are incorrectly charged as co-conspirators simply because of their affiliation with the actual conspirators. Mere association can be, and frequently is a complete defense to a most drug conspiracy charges.
WITHDRAWAL DEFENSE TO DRUG CONSPIRACY CHARGES
Generally, the liability of individual conspirators continues from the time they join the scheme until in ends or until they withdraw. Simply abstaining from active participation in the conspiracy is not enough. To successfully assert the defense of withdrawal, a person bears the burden to present competent evidence that he or she either took some action to make his or her departure from the conspiracy clear to his or her co-conspirators or that he or she disclosed the scheme to law enforcement.
SEVERITY OF MOST FEDERAL DRUG CONSPIRACY CASES
Under prevailing federal law and the complex United States sentencing guidelines, virtually everyone involved in most federal drug cases with a conspiracy charge included in the indictment will be subject to a severe mandatory minimum prison sentence. The mandatory minimum five and ten year sentences associated with most federal drug offenses will be applicable to all members of the conspiracy if the amount of illegal drugs in the case rises above a specified amount. In the vast majority of federal drug cases, these amounts will be present. Having an attorney who is experienced in defending these types of cases is a must. Decades of imprisonment are on the line.
Our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at Oronoz & Ericsson have over a decade of experience guiding individuals through the justice system. We are available at all hours so you can reach us whenever you need us. We pride ourselves on being honest and communicating in a transparent manner.