What is a conspiracy charge? What do courts consider while charging in a conspiracy case?

Different states take the phenomenon of conspiracy and charge conspiracy differently. In some states, just thinking about committing a crime can be charged as conspiracy and in others, it needs other requirements to fulfill.

What is a conspiracy charge and when penalties are attached to it? Read further to know more about them.

What is a conspiracy charge?

Conspiracy is a crime. A criminal conspiracy takes place when one or more people engage in criminal activity. Regardless if they do not commit the crime to its completion. The crime of conspiracy can be charged to people who plan and attempt further steps and bring it into action.

In some states, someone can be charged for criminal conspiracy even if the crime never happened. The act of planning the crime itself is a violation of the law. Explanation of this law, however, is a bit complicated and nuanced. Sometimes the law turns ‘just talks’ into enough to be a punishable crime and sometimes it waits till the commission of the crime. Several complexities make this area of law intricate to understand.

Criminal conspiracies are punishable by law and are designed to deter potential accusers and criminals from committing crimes and to make sure that the active players in the plan remain accountable for their activities.

Similar to criminal solicitation and attempt, conspiracy is an inchoate crime. This particularly means that to attach a liability, criminal activity does not need to be attempted successfully.

For instance, if two or more people plan to rob a store, the liability of planning a conspiracy will be charged, even if they do not attempt to rob. Here, the substantial crime is robbery, and to conspire to commit is inchoate as it is not implemented.

To charge the conspiracy, the law requires three elements to be taken place;

  • Involvement of another person in an agreement to commit a crime
  • The intention of committing a crime
  • If there’s an overt act in the development of the crime

A criminal defense attorney can help you break down each component to untangle the conspiracy law theory. 

1.  The Agreement

For a conspiracy charge, the most important component.is the agreement to commit a crime. This agreement doesn’t need to be a written agreement or an in-depth plan. In some jurisdictions, the law enforcement agencies do not even need evidence sometimes to prove its existence.

This means, the parties just have to agree on a plan to be liable for a conspiracy charge. The agreement requires one more person, however, who intends a similar conspiracy.

The members involved in the conspiracy do not have to be a part of the plan from the beginning. If they join later and agree on the plan, they will be liable if they intend to commit the crime.

On the other hand, conspirators agreeing to those who do not show intention to commit the crime will not be held liable. Plus, the conspirators don’t have to be informed of each other’s intentions. They are often referred to as ‘hub-and-spoke’ conspiracies.

Under co-conspirator law, a conspiracy charge needs two guilty minds. If one of the conspirators is acquitted, he will not be liable for conspiracy. An absence of agreement dissolves the conspiracy charge.

2. An intention to commit a crime

For charging a conspiracy crime, both parties of the agreement should intend to attempt the crime.

This means that if the conspirators agree to the conspiracy, secretly deciding to not play their part in the crime will not be charged. This happens when undercover police officers, informants, and detectives are involved in such conspiracies, so they are not charged.

3. Overt Act

Typically, there should be an overt act that helps in developing the conspiracy. However, many states like South Carolina, do not need such elements to prove liability. The requirement of an overt act in many small clauses of conspiracy states laws that deal with such types of crimes.

In simpler words, any furtherance that moves conspiracy one step ahead satisfies the requirement of liability. It can even be a phone call. The overt act also does not always have to be illegal and it does not require an attempt only from the defendant.

Penalties attached to the conspiracy charge

The penalties attached to the conspiracy convictions directly depend on the state where you live and the severity of the criminal case that you conspired to commit.

If the conspired act carries felony charges, the conspirer would get felony charges according to the state laws. If the conspiracy act carries multiple felony charges, the conspirer can be convicted with more severe felony charges for conspiracy. The conviction may carry:

  • $10,000 in fines
  • One-year prison time in county jail.

Federal conspiracy charges carry much-diversified penalty convictions for felony and misdemeanor. If the conspiracy planning involves a federal crime, a conviction may carry five years behind federal bars.

Legal defenses to a conspiracy case

A defendant with a conspiracy charge should avoid these penalties by considering hiring an experienced attorney.

The legal defenses that can be raised against conspiracy charges include:

  • Absence of agreement
  • Absence of the overt act in the development of the crime
  • The defendant pulled out himself/herself from the conspiracy.

If you are accused of a conspiracy charge, it is recommended to have a criminal attorney to protect your rights. A criminal defense attorney will help you reduce the possible conspiracy charges.

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