A criminal conspiracy exists when two or more people agree to commit almost any unlawful act, then take some action toward its completion. The action taken need not itself be a crime, but it must indicate that those involved in the conspiracy knew of the plan and intended to break the law. A person may be convicted of conspiracy even if the actual crime was never committed.
For example, Jason, Alice and Hank plan a bank robbery. They 1) visit the bank first to assess its security, and 2) pool their money and buy a gun. All three can be charged with conspiracy to commit robbery, regardless of whether the robbery itself is ever attempted or completed.
The "Agreement" Requirement
You might be wondering how exactly an agreement between two co-conspirators is formed. There's no need for formalities. For instance, in the above example, Hank isn't required to tell Jason and Alice in unequivocal terms, "I agree to commit a crime with you" (although that statement would surely be a prosecutor's dream). Instead, an agreement may be implied from the circumstances, such as where Hank and his two companions hold a meeting to plan the crime.
The Element of "Intent"
As with other specific intent crimes, a person's intention is key. But the court will also care about the mental states of the alleged partners in crime. Other individuals in the conspiracy must intend to agree, and all must intend to achieve the outcome.
Merely associating with people known to be involved in crime doesn't make you a co-conspirator. For instance, just because your friend tells you he is going to burglarize a house doesn't mean you are part of the conspiracy. Not unless you also agree to participate by acting as a getaway driver or helping him scope out the property ahead of time.
The "Overt Act" Requirement
In most jurisdictions, at least one co-conspirator must take some concrete step in furtherance of the plan. In the bank robbery example, this could be rental of a car to use in the crime. The requirement of an overt act prevents people from being thrown in jail for merely talking about a crime. If three drunken friends at a bar speculate about how they would rob a bank together, and none of them ever undertakes any sort of actual action, there's no criminal conspiracy. The intent requirement likely wouldn't be satisfied in that scenario, either.
Under the federal conspiracy statute, the offense is punishable by up to five years imprisonment, plus fines. A significantly lower penalty applies if the object of the conspiracy was merely a misdemeanor (e.g., you conspire to commit vandalism); in that case the sentence for conspiracy can't exceed the maximum penalty for the misdemeanor. Under state law, the punishments for conspiracy vary.
Prosecutors commonly charge conspiracy whenever two or more offenders act in tandem. A person can be convicted both of an underlying crime and of conspiracy to commit it, and receive separate punishments for each offense.
Charged With Criminal Conspiracy? You'll Want a Good Attorney
If you've been charged with conspiracy or any other crime, you'll need a strong advocate on your side. Be sure to speak with an experienced attorney who knows the ropes and how to persuasively argue your case and protect your rights. Contact a criminal defense lawyer near you today to get started.