In many situations involving more than one person committing an unlawful act, the criminal charges may extend beyond the act itself to include criminal conspiracy. Even if the action itself isn’t necessarily illegal, if those involved understood that their plans were intended to break the law, then they may be guilty of conspiracy. Furthermore, even if they only planned a criminal action but did not carry it out, they may still be charged with criminal conspiracy.
Let’s say that Abner, Billy, and Carla plan to rob a bank in Lansing. During the planning process, they assess the bank’s security measures through research and observation. They also each contribute money to purchase a gun to use in the robbery. Whether or not they move forward with the crime, at this point, the authorities can still charge them with conspiracy to commit robbery.
What Constitutes Conspiracy?
Several requirements usually need to be fulfilled for someone to be convicted of criminal conspiracy. These include, but are not limited to:
An “agreement” between two or more conspirators. This agreement need not be formally documented.
The element of “intent.” Many criminal charges require some level of intent.
An “overt act.” The crime doesn’t need to be carried out in full. Most jurisdictions also require that there be some overt action taken by at least one of the conspirators that demonstrates that they planned to carry out the crime as planned.
A conspiracy to commit a crime can vary in numerous ways. These are some of the fundamentals that prosecutors look for when deciding whether or not to charge a defendant. We’ll go over them each one by one.
What constitutes an agreement between conspirators? As we mentioned above, it is not necessary for there to be a formally documented agreement, such as a contract (although a contract would certainly make the case more clear-cut). Carla does not have to explicitly say, “I agree to commit the following crime with Abner and Billy” for there to be an agreement in place.
Often the agreement is implied. Were Carla, Abner, and Billy all present at the same time when they discussed the potential crime? Did anyone offer any objections to the crime itself? Did they all contribute to the discussion? Did they passively signal that they were on board with the crime they planned? These and other questions will be used by law enforcement and the prosecution to gauge whether or not there was an “agreement” in place.
Many crimes require that there be some element of intent involved. The court will look at the intentions of each conspirator, as well as their mental states. Each conspirator’s purposes will be examined to see if they all agreed to the basic plan, and whether or not they sought to achieve a common outcome.
But being associated with people who committed or planned to commit a crime doesn’t make one a co-conspirator. For example, Carla would not necessarily be charged as a conspirator if Abner and Billy were planning to burglarize a residence and told her about it over dinner, but she didn’t contribute to the plan or participate in any manner.
However, if she did participate by helping them determine the best getaway route, or cased the house to decide whether or not it had security cameras, she would very likely be considered part of the conspiracy to commit a criminal act.
Most jurisdictions require at least one of the involved conspirators to take an overt action that demonstrates that they want the plan to move forward. Daydreaming with your friends about the most effective methods to pull off a heist at the Louvre doesn’t mean you’re conspiring to commit a crime.
However, if the plan is discussed, and one of the involved persons purchases a plane ticket or rents a car necessary to the plan, this could be used to demonstrate that their planning was more than mere daydreaming.
Overt actions taken by the co-conspirators can also be used to prove their intent to commit the crime. Discussing a theoretical bank robbery is one thing; purchasing ski masks and weapons to carry it out is another.
Penalties for Conspiring to Commit a Crime
Penalties for being found guilty of conspiring to commit a crime can vary a great deal depending on different factors.
The federal conspiracy statute, for example, makes conspiracy punishable by up to five years in prison. Fines can also be levied against someone found guilty of conspiracy.
The severity of the crime being planned will also likely affect an individual’s sentence if found guilty of criminal conspiracy. A conspiracy to commit a felony will usually receive harsher penalties than a conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor. Typically, the penalty for the misdemeanor itself cannot exceed the punishment for the crime the accused had planned.
However, an individual can be charged separately for the actual crimes they committed as well as the conspiracy charges. They will receive penalties for each charge for which they are found guilty.
Naturally, jurisdiction will also affect the minimum and maximum penalties involved in a conspiracy.
What to Do if You Have Been Charged With Conspiracy to Commit a Crime
If you have been charged with a crime, or with conspiracy to commit a crime, it’s essential to engage the services of a criminal attorney. You want to work with an attorney who is experienced with both the specific type of crime as well as conspiracy to commit a crime. The sooner you begin talking with an experienced lawyer, the more likely they will be able to plan a comprehensive defense.
An experienced attorney who has worked on these types of cases for years will be able to defend you aggressively and make strong, persuasive arguments in your defense. Even if you are not in a position to be found not guilty, they’ll be able to negotiate with the prosecution. An attorney can ensure that you receive minimal penalties under the law. Don’t gamble with your future. Call Patrick O’Keefe today.