Why America's Conspiracy Laws Need to Be Changed Now
Date:  05-05-2016

Critics say conspiracy laws make it easy for prosecutors to abuse their power
From Reason

Amy Povah was just 30 years old when she was sentenced to 24 years in federal prison for a drug crime she didn’t even commit herself. The crime—manufacturing a large amount of ecstasy in both the United States and Germany—was committed by her then-husband, Sandy Pofahl. Her lengthy prison sentence was based on the entire amount of ecstasy Pofahl manufactured, even though five co-defendants provided affidavits stating Amy was not involved in his drug trade.

Because Pofahl cooperated with the U.S. prosecution by providing the government with information about other drug dealers, he walked away with just three years probation in the U.S. after serving four years in a German prison. Povah, meanwhile, refused to cooperate with the federal investigation into her husband’s crime and, as a result, was indicted for conspiracy. The charges came with a mandatory 20-year to life sentence in federal prison. She was convicted in 1991.

Charlie Strauss, an assistant U.S. attorney from Waco, Texas who had initially questioned Povah, told Glamour magazine in 1999, "Had she come to the table at that time—co operated, been truthful, honest and candid—I would say there's a probability she wouldn't have been prosecuted."

Povah's predicament is far from rare. There are thousands of others like her in America, people who have received outsized sentences despite very minimal connections to the crimes of others thanks to our country’s conspiracy statutes. These laws give broad discretion to prosecutors to charge just about anyone who "conspired to commit" a crime. What "conspired" means, however, is largely up to interpretation, and the definition can be stretched to absurd lengths at the whim of the prosecution. It often is. Continue reading