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Federal Conspiracy Laws by Circuit

First Circuit

We consider all relevant circumstances and focus on such factors as "whether the alleged conspirators shared a common purpose, whether their actions demonstrated interdependency, and the extent to which participants overlapped during the life of the alleged conspiracy." United States v. Trainor, 477 F.3d 24, 33 (1st Cir. 2007). While the nature of the illegal activity, the method of operation, and the scope of conspirator involvement are factors to be considered in determining whether a single conspiracy has been proved, if the totality of the evidence is adequate to demonstrate that all of the alleged coconspirators directed their [**12] efforts towards the accomplishment of a common goal or overall plan, then the existence of a single conspiracy can be found. United States v. Drougas, 748 F.2d 8, 17 (1st Cir. 1984). A defendant's substantial rights in this context include the right to be sufficiently informed about the charges against him so he can prepare an effective defense and not be surprised at trial, and the right not to be subject to another prosecution for the same offense. Id.

Second Circuit

"[I]n order to prove a single conspiracy, the government must show that each alleged member agreed to participate in what he knew to be a collective venture directed toward a common goal." United States v. Martino, 664 F.2d 860, 876 (2d Cir. 1981). The goals of all the participants need not be congruent for a single conspiracy to exist, so long as their goals are not at cross-purposes. United States v. Heinemann, 801 F.2d 86, 92 n.1 (2d Cir. 1986). Indeed, it is not necessary that the conspirators know the identities of all the other conspirators in order for a single conspiracy to be found, see, e.g., Blumenthal v. United States, 332 U.S. 539, 557, 68 S. Ct. 248, 92 L. Ed. 154 (1947); United States v. Gleason, 616 F.2d 2, 16 (2d Cir. 1979), especially where the activity of a single person was central to the involvement of all, United States v. Maldonado-Rivera, 922 F.2d 934, 963 (2d Cir. 1990).

Third Circuit

In order to determine whether a group of individuals engaged in a single conspiracy or multiple conspiracies, we evaluate three factors. We consider: (1) "whether there was a common goal among the conspirators"; (2) "whether the agreement contemplated bringing to pass a continuous result that will not continue without the continuous cooperation of the conspirators"; and (3) "the extent to which the participants overlap in the various dealings." United States v. Kelly, 892 F.2d 255, 259 (3d Cir. 1989). The Government may not charge "multiple unrelated conspiracies," but it can charge a "master conspiracy [with] more than one subsidiary scheme." United States v. Kenny, 462 F.2d 1205, 1216 (3d Cir. 1972).

In evaluating interdependence, we consider how helpful one individual's contribution is to another's goals. See United States v. Macchia, 35 F.3d 662, 671 (2d Cir. 1994) (describing inquiry as "the extent to which the success or failure of one conspiracy is independent of a corresponding success or failure by the other"). We reiterate that interdependence serves as "evidence of an agreement," United States v. Perez, 280 F.3d 318, 346 (3rd Cir. 2002), that is, it helps establish whether the alleged coconspirators are "all committed to the same set of objectives in a single conspiracy," United States v. Smith, 82 F.3d 1261, 1271 (3d Cir.1996).
The rule against variances serves several purposes, one of which "rests on a principle akin to double jeopardy, for the rule helps to minimize the danger that the defendant may be prosecuted a second time for the same offense." United States v. Schurr, 775 F.2d 549, 554 (3d Cir. 1985).

Fourth Circuit

The question of "[w]hether there is a single conspiracy or multiple conspiracies depends upon the overlap of key actors, methods, and goals." United States v. Strickland, 245 F.3d 368, 385 (4th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). We have previously determined that "[a] single conspiracy exists where there is one overall agreement, or one general business venture." United States v. Leavis, 853 F.2d 215, 218 (4th Cir. 1988) (internal quotation marks & citation omitted).

Fifth Circuit

The principal considerations in counting the number of conspiracies are (1) the existence of a common goal; (2) the nature of the scheme; and (3) the overlapping of the participants in the various dealings. United States v. Morrow, 177 F.3d 272, 291 (5th Cir. 1999). This court has broadly defined the criterion of a common goal in counting conspiracies. United States v. Mitchell, 484 F.3d 762, 770 (5th Cir. 2007). Under the second prong, wherein we examine the nature of the scheme, "the existence of a single conspiracy will be inferred where the activities of one aspect of the scheme are necessary or advantageous to the success of another aspect or to the overall success of the venture, where there are several parts inherent in a larger common plan." Id. (citing United States v. Morris, 46 F.3d 410, 416 (5th Cir. 1995). As to the third prong, the more interconnected the various relationships are, the more likely there is a single conspiracy. Morris, 46 F.3d at 416. However, "there is no requirement that every member must participate in every transaction to find a single conspiracy. Parties who knowingly participate with core conspirators to achieve a common goal may be members of an overall conspiracy." United States. v. Richerson, 833 F.2d 1147, 1154 (5th Cir. 1987). A single conspiracy exists where a "key man" is involved in and directs illegal activities, while various combinations of other participants exert individual efforts toward a common goal. United States v. Elam, 678 F.2d 1234, 1246 (5th Cir. 1982). The members of a conspiracy which functions through a division of labor need not have an awareness of the existence of the other members, or be privy to the details of each aspect of the conspiracy. Elam, 678 F.2d at 1246; Richerson, 833 F.2d at 1154.

Sixth Circuit

"A variance occurs when the charging terms [of the indictment] are unchanged, but the evidence at trial proves facts materially different from those alleged in the indictment."United States v. Chilingirian, 280 F.3d 704, 711 (6th Cir. 2002) (quotations omitted). "[I]f an indictment alleges one conspiracy, but the evidence can reasonably be construed only as supporting a finding of multiple conspiracies, the resulting variance between the indictment and the proof is reversible error if the appellant can show that he was prejudiced thereby." United States v. Warner, 690 F.2d 545, 548 (6th Cir. 1982) (citing Kotteakos v. United States, 328 U.S. 750, 66 S. Ct. 1239, 90 L. Ed. 1557 (1946)). The key factors in determining the number of conspiracies "are the existence of a common goal, the nature of the scheme, and the overlapping of the participants in various dealings." United States v. Smith, 320 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2003). To demonstrate substantial prejudice, the appellant must show that the variance prejudiced his ability to defend himself or prejudiced the overall fairness of the trial. United States v. Manning, 142 F.3d 336, 339 (6th Cir. 1998).

"Mere association with conspirators is not enough to establish participation in a conspiracy."United States v. Pearce, 912 F.2d 159, 162 (6th Cir. 1990). Moreover, it is not sufficient simply to demonstrate that the alleged conspirators knew each other and committed the same or associated crimes. The essence of a conspiracy is the agreement to commit the offense and not the commission of the substantive offense. United States v. Fife, 573 F.2d 369, 373 (6th Cir. 1976); United States v. Sutton, 642 F.2d 1001, 1020 (6th Cir. 1980).

Eighth Circuit

"Whether a given case involves single or multiple conspiracies depends on whether there was one overall agreement to perform various functions to achieve the objectives of the conspiracy."United States v. Radtke, 415 F.3d 826, 838 (8th Cir. 2005) (internal quotations omitted). That the conspirators entered the conspiracy at different times and played discrete roles does not compel a finding of multiple conspiracies. United States v. Maza, 93 F.3d 1390, 1398 (8th Cir. 1996). "A conspiracy with multiple objectives is not the same thing as multiple conspiracies." Radtke, 415 F.3d at 839. Relevant factors "include the nature of the activities involved, the location where the alleged events of the conspiracy took place, the identity of the conspirators involved, and the time frame in which the acts occurred."United States v. McCarthy, 97 F.3d 1562, 1571 (8th Cir. 1996).

Ninth Circuit

The standard for determining the existence of a single conspiracy is whether there was "one overall agreement" among the parties to carry out the objectives of the conspiracy. United States v. Kearney, 560 F.2d 1358, 1362 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 971, 54 L. Ed. 2d 460, 98 S. Ct. 522 (1977)(“The evidence reveals that appellants knew they were engaged with others in a single, though geographically and temporally extensive, criminal venture for the smuggling and distribution of narcotics”); accord United States v. Jabara, 618 F.2d 1319 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 446 U.S. 987, 100 S. Ct. 2973, 64 L. Ed. 2d 845 (1980); United States v. Zemek, 634 F.2d 1159 (9th Cir. 1980). “Almost any venture, criminal or legitimate, is analyzable into a series of bits, each of which, in turn, is characterizable as an independent plan or goal. The standard for determining the existence of a single conspiracy, however, ‘. . . is whether there was one overall agreement among the various parties to perform various functions in order to carry out the objectives of the conspiracy . . . .’” United States v. Kearney, 560 F.2d 1358, 1362 (9th Cir. Cal. 1977)(quoting United States v. Hobson, 519 F.2d 765, 775 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 931, 96 S. Ct. 283, 46 L. Ed. 2d 261 (1975).

Typically, the inference of an overall agreement is drawn from proof of a single objective, see, e.g., United States v. Taren-Palma, 997 F.2d 525, 530 (9th Cir. 1993)(a single agreement to sell ten kilograms of cocaine), or from proof that the key participants and the method of operation remained constant throughout the conspiracy. See, e.g., United States v. Bibbero, 749 F.2d 581, 587 (9th Cir. 1984)(four key participants and method of operation remained relatively constant).

Eleventh Circuit

We will only reverse a conviction for a variance if the variance is material and substantially prejudices the defendant. United States v. Edouard, 485 F.3d 1324, 1347 (11th Cir. 2007). "A material variance between an indictment and the government's proof at trial occurs if the government proves multiple conspiracies under an indictment alleging only a single conspiracy."United States v. Moore, 525 F.3d 1033, 1042 (11th Cir. 2008) (quotation omitted).

The arguable existence of multiple conspiracies does not constitute a material variance if a reasonable trier of fact could have found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a single (charged) conspiracy existed, and we will not disturb the determination of a jury if supported by substantial evidence. Id.

"In determining whether a jury could have found a single conspiracy, this Court considers: (1) whether a common goal existed; (2) the nature of the underlying scheme; and (3) the overlap of participants." Id. Separate transactions are not separate conspiracies as long as the participants act in concert to further the common goal, and it is irrelevant if a particular co-conspirator did not participate in every stage of the conspiracy. Id. The finding of a conspiracy is permitted where a "key man" directs and coordinates the activities and individual efforts of various combinations of people. Edouard, 485 F.3d at 1347.

D.C. Circuit

Whether activities constitute a single or multiple conspiracies depends on several factors, including "whether participants shared a common goal . . .; interdependence between the alleged participants . . . and, though less significant, overlap among alleged participants."United States v. Graham, 83 F.3d 1466, 1471 (D.C. Cir. 1996). Overlap requires only that the main conspirators work with all the participants. United States v. Mathis, 216 F.3d 18, 23-24 (D.C. Cir. 2000). A conspiracy may pursue multiple schemes with different modi operandi without dividing into multiple conspiracies, as long as there is a single objective. United States v. Gatling, 321 U.S. App. D.C. 63, 96 F.3d 1511, 1520 (D.C. Cir. 1996)(single conspiracy involving the same central figure comprised two schemes in different cities, operating in a different manner). Moreover, "a conspiracy's purpose should not be defined in [terms] too narrow or specific . . . ." Id.

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