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. One person may be charged with and convicted of both conspiracy and the underlying crime based on the same circumstances.
For example, Andy, Dan, and Alice plan a bank robbery. They 1) visit the bank first to assess security, 2) pool their money and buy a gun together, and 3) write a demand letter. All three can be charged with conspiracy to commit robbery, regardless of whether the robbery itself is actually attempted or completed.
The "Agreement" Requirement
You might be wondering how exactly the agreement between two co-conspirators actually takes place. First, the agreement does not need to be expressly conveyed. For instance, in the above example, Andy isn't required to tell Dan and Alice in unequivocal terms, "I agree to commit a conspiracy with you," (although, that statement would surely be a prosecutor's dream and strong evidence of a criminal conspiracy).
Instead, the agreement may be implicit or shown by the action of "two or more guilty minds," as required under common law. Examples of evidence of an implicit agreement can include the appearance of the co-defendants at transactions and negotiations in furtherance of the conspiracy such as a planning meeting.
It is important to note that courts have found that mere presence or association with those committing a crime doesn't, by itself, make someone a co-conspirator unless there are other factors that collectively point to an implicit agreement.
The Element of "Intent"
As with other specific intent crimes, your intention means everything. But that's not the only intent the court will care about. Not only does one other individual in the conspiracy need to intend to agree, all parties must intend to achieve the outcome.
Simply put, knowledge of a crime isn't enough to get you thrown behind bars. For instance, just because your friend tells you he is going to burglarize a house, doesn't mean you are part of the conspiracy to burglarize it. Not unless you also agree to help by acting as a getaway car or helping him scope out the property ahead of time.
A conspiracy conviction can yield some pretty tough penalties depending on the underlying crime. You can be punished for both the conspiracy and the actual crime itself if, it were completed. For example, if you are charged and convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery and the actual crime of robbery, you may have to suffer the consequences of both. Additionally, in some cases if you are convicted of a conspiracy to commit a felony, you may have to serve a mandatory minimum sentence.
Charged With Conspiracy? You'll Want a Good Attorney
Being accused of a criminal conspiracy is a serious accusation and can have a huge impact on your life, including the strong likelihood of incarceration. If you are being investigated or have been arrested for a conspiracy to commit a crime, you'll need a strong advocate on your side. Find a local, experienced criminal defense lawyer today.