Conspiracy is a common type of criminal charge that’s often misunderstood. When the authorities charge someone with conspiracy to commit a crime, what they are claiming is that the person agreed with one or more people to commit the crime. A recent drug case out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit gives some insight into the type of proof that prosecutors need to convict someone on a conspiracy charge.
Mr. McGee was sentenced to nearly 22 years in federal prison after being convicted of conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute. He was acquitted, however, on a related charge of possessing cocaine with intent to distribute. In other words, the jury found that there was enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that McGee and another person agreed to commit the criminal act of possessing cocaine with the intent to distribute it, but not enough evidence to prove that he ever actually possessed cocaine with the intent to distribute it. The trial included evidence from a confidential police informant about a series of controlled drug transactions between McGee and the informant. McGee later appealed the conviction and sentence.
Affirming the decision, the Fourth Circuit said there was enough evidence for the jury to find that McGee was involved in the alleged conspiracy. “The evidence at trial established the existence of a drug distribution system involving McGee as cocaine supplier,” the Court explained. In order to prove the conspiracy charge, the prosecutors had to show that McGee knowingly agreed with one or persons to violate federal drug law and that he voluntarily participated in the agreement. Here, the Court said the evidence showed that McGee worked through a middle man to sell cocaine to the government informant on various occasions. Those transactions regularly happened within one day of a request from a buyer, according to the Court. As a result, it was appropriate for the jury to conclude that he had a steady supplier whom he was working with to sell the drugs.
Although McGee claimed that he didn’t know many of the people involved in the alleged conspiracy, the Court said the prosecutors said he didn’t have to actually know them to be engaged in a conspiracy with them. “[T]he Government did not have to prove that McGee knew all of his co-conspirators or all of the details of the conspiracy,” the Court noted, citing its 1996 decision in U.S. v. Burgos. “Instead, McGee knew that his buyer acted as a middleman for a third person; this proved a conspiracy.”
As this case shows, conspiracy charges are complicated matters, and a conviction can mean a long stretch behind bars. It’s important that a person facing any criminal charges seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. The West Virginia criminal defense lawyers at the Wolfe Law Firm have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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