What is a Conspiracy and Why It’s Such an Easy Charge for the Government?

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conspiracy no agreementConspiracy Charges

A conspiracy is a crime involving two or more people working together to achieve a common outcome. Even if they do not commit the crime to completion, they can be charged with conspiracy if they plan and take action to move their plan forward.

It’s even possible for someone to be charged with and prosecuted for criminal conspiracy even if a crime was never committed. The act of planning the crime in itself broke the law.

What is a conspiracy and what do prosecutors need to show to prove conspiracy occurred?

Conspiracy Requires an Agreement

To be convicted of criminal conspiracy, you and at least one co-conspirator must share an agreement to commit a crime. But what exactly does it mean to have an agreement?

Legally, it’s fairly vague.

A conspiracy agreement doesn’t mean there is a contract created with the details of a crime. There doesn’t even need to be a conversation in which co-conspirators say “I agree to commit a crime.”

Instead, the agreement can be implied based on circumstances. A conversation in which the crime is discussed could be enough evidence to prove conspiracy. A prosecutor could use something as simple as you attending a planning meeting or showing up at the location of the intended crime to show conspiracy.

In most cases, the conversation alone is usually not enough to create an illegal conspiracy in most cases. Most of the time, at least one co-conspirator must take a step to further the plan. Most states have laws requiring there be an overt act to avoid people being thrown in jail just for talking about a crime, depending on what that crime is. But a conversation can be used against you to prove the conspiracy occurred, even if additional evidence is needed.

Conspiracy Requires Intent

Conspiracy is a specific intent crime, so proving the defendant’s intention is important. All co-conspirators must intend to agree to commit the crime and intend to achieve the result of the crime.

This means that if you were friends with someone who committed a crime and you happened to be with the person when the crime occurred, but you had no intention of participating in the crime, it could be difficult for the prosecution to prove intent. Mere association with a group of co-conspirators is not enough to prove guilt.

Furthermore, even knowing about a crime doesn’t prove you were part of a conspiracy. Even if a person tells you he or she intended to commit a crime unless you intend to participate in the crime, you are not part of the conspiracy.

Penalties for Conspiracy

Conspiracy can be charged at both the state and federal level and can be a misdemeanor or felony crime. The specific charges determine the potential penalty if there is a conviction.

Federal conspiracies are punishable by up to five years in jail plus fines. Some of the most common conspiracies charged at the federal level include money laundering or the manufacturing of drugs or weapons. Misdemeanor conspiracies typically carry whatever sentence is the maximum for that misdemeanor. Penalties for state conspiracies vary.

It’s possible to be charged with both the crime itself and conspiracy and receive penalties for each separate instance. Sentences can also be increased if there are both state and federal laws broken.

Why Is Conspiracy Such an Easy Charge for the Government?

Charges of conspiracy tend to be easy to prosecute for several reasons.

Federal law prohibits conspiracies to defraud the United States, impede or injure an officer, or commit violent crimes. In addition to those specific conspiracies, there are also other federal statutes that prohibit conspiracy, so there are many instances in which conspiracy could be charged.

This makes it easier to charge conspiracy because it “fits” several situations. Conversely, to charge murder, there must have been a murder. To charge burglary, there must be a burglary, and so on. But to charge conspiracy, there could be any number of crimes that took place.

And to make it even easier to charge conspiracy, there need not even be a crime committed.

You could be charged with conspiracy (a crime) under federal law even if no primary crime was committed. Most states protect against conspiracy charges if no action was taken to carry out the crime, so being charged for thinking about or talking about committing a crime is unlikely, but this isn’t always the case.

For instance, conspiring (talking about, planning, etc.) to commit a murder without following through with any action could still result in criminal charges. You can read more about conspiracy to murder charges at the Cornell Law Library.

If you would like to know more about conspiracy charges or you are facing potential charges and you need representation, contact Gary Tabakman at (713) 331-9457.