Durham Explains How the Law Works When You’re Evaluating Whether Someone Committed A Crime*

Burden of Proof

The government has the burden of proving that a defendant committed any criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Basis for Conviction

In order to obtain a conviction under the following statutes, the government must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • False statements: The defendant made a statement or representation that was false, fictitious, or fraudulent. The statement or representation must have been made knowingly and willfully. The statement or representation must have been made in a matter within the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the government.
  • Perjury: The defendant took an oath and willfully stated or subscribed to any material matter that he or she did not believe to be true.
  • Falsification of records: The defendant knowingly falsified a document with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence an investigation or the proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States.
  • Obstruction of justice: The defendant engaged in conduct that obstructed, impeded, or interfered with an official proceeding. The conduct must have been done with the intent to obstruct, impede, or interfere with the proceeding.

These are just some of the statutes that the government may use to prosecute a defendant for criminal conduct. The specific elements that the government must prove will vary depending on the statute and the facts of the case.

Violation of Civil Rights

It is a crime for anyone, acting under color of law, willfully to deprive any person of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. To be convicted of this crime, the government must prove that:

  • The defendant deprived the person of a right protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
  • The defendant acted willfully, meaning that he or she intended to deprive the person of that right.
  • The defendant acted under color of law, meaning that he or she was acting in his or her official capacity or claimed to be doing so.

Conspiracy to Violate Civil Rights

It is a crime to conspire to deprive a person of his or her civil rights. To be convicted of this crime, the government must prove that:

  • The defendant entered into a conspiracy with one or more other people to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate a named victim.
  • The defendant intended to interfere with the named victim’s exercise or enjoyment of a right that is secured (or protected) by the Constitution (or laws) of the United States.
  • The named victim was present in any state, district, or territory of the United States.

General Conspiracy Statute

A conspiracy under 18 U.S.C. § 371 is an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime. To be convicted of conspiracy, the government must prove that:

  • Two or more people agreed to try to accomplish a shared and unlawful plan.
  • The defendant knew the unlawful purpose of the plan and willfully joined in it.
  • During the conspiracy, one of the conspirators knowingly engaged in at least one overt act as described in the indictment.
  • The overt act was committed at or about the time alleged and with the purpose of carrying out or accomplishing some object of the conspiracy.

In addition to criminalizing an agreement whose object is to violate a federal criminal law, Section 371 also criminalizes a conspiracy

“to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof for any manner or for any purpose.”

This may also include interfering with the performance of official duties by government officials.

Campaign Contributions

By Individuals and Organizations

  • The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) limits the amount of money that individuals and organizations can contribute to federal candidates and political committees.
  • The limits are in place to prevent corruption and to ensure that all candidates have a fair chance of winning elections.

By Foreign Nationals

  • Foreign nationals are prohibited from making any contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a federal election.
  • This prohibition is in place to protect the integrity of the electoral process and to prevent foreign governments from influencing the outcome of elections.

Fraud against the United States

It is a crime to defraud the United States by knowingly using or trying to use a scheme with the intent to:

  • defraud the United States.
  • get money or property by using materially false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises.

This crime can be committed in a variety of ways, including:

  • submitting false information on a federal grant application.
  • overbilling the government for services.
  • using government property for personal use.

Money Laundering

  • Money laundering is the process of concealing the origins of illegally obtained money.
  • It is often done by transferring the money through a series of financial transactions, making it difficult to trace its source.
  • Money laundering can be used to finance criminal activity, such as terrorism or drug trafficking.

Disclosure of National Defense Information

It is a crime to disclose national defense information to unauthorized persons.

This information can include anything that could be used to harm the national security of the United States, such as:

  • military plans
  • troop movements
  • intelligence secrets

These are just some of the federal laws that govern campaign finance, fraud, money laundering, and the disclosure of national defense information. The government can prosecute individuals who violate these laws, and the penalties can be severe.

This text is a simplified version of Part IIID of the Durham report, “Statutes Used to Evaluate Possible Criminal Conduct.” It was generated with artificial intelligence, and edited and organized by Dr. Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own.