Conspiracy is the term for a broad category of crimes involving multiple actors coming together to engage in criminal activity. Specific federal anti-conspiracy statutes are found throughout federal law. State statutes also contain anti-conspiracy laws. Criminal conspiracy is a felony, even when the crime planned and carried out is a misdemeanor.
In recent years, a growing number of white collar criminal prosecutions have included allegations of conspiracy. A person or business generally is guilty of conspiracy to commit a crime if that person or business does one of the following:
Bringing a conspiracy charge offers the prosecution several distinct advantages. Prosecutors usually learn of a conspiracy while it is in an early stage; thus, they may prosecute before the underlying crime takes place. Further, prosecutors may be able to charge defendants simultaneously and present evidence against the group.
Although evidence is hard to gather in criminal conspiracy cases, since most of the agreements must be inferred from what little evidence actually exists, trial judges often have more sympathy for the prosecutors as a result.
The two key elements in proving a conspiracy are an agreement and an act in furtherance of the conspiracy by one of the actors:
A procedural issue of great importance to parties accused of conspiracy is whether government prosecutors try to frame the conspiracy as a "hub-and-spoke conspiracy" or a "chain conspiracy":
As mentioned earlier, proving criminal conspiracy is often difficult because there is little physical evidence of agreement between persons if there is no contract. The criminals would have to be extraordinary stupid to create a written or otherwise physical contract to commit a crime.
The best type of evidence, therefore, is a confession by one or more of the suspects. If such a confession isn’t produced, prosecutors must do their best to infer agreement from the circumstances. The first inference is one of vested interest: if a defendant has an interest in seeing the crime committed, then a jury could infer that the defendant could agree to commit the crime. The interest inferred is usually a monetary one.
The second inference is if the defendant had no legitimate reason for aiding the criminals beyond being involved in the crime. This type of inference is usually made in cases where one conspirator supplies the other conspirator(s) with the materials needed to commit the crime. For example, there is no legitimate reason for a bank teller to give “customers” a map of the bank’s vaults unless the “customers” were planning on robbing the bank later.
Due to the definition of the crime and the elements which must be proven, criminal conspiracy contains a number of defenses, some of which are unique to the crime:
This is helpful in conspiracy cases involving misdemeanors because conspiracy statutes are always drawn very broadly. Invoking the specificity doctrine could allow a defendant to escape the felony charge (conspiracy) and serve a misdemeanor sentence instead.
Criminal conspiracy is a complicated criminal charge that involves several complicated legal theories. If you have been accused of or arrested for criminal conspiracy, you may find the advice of a criminal defense attorney to be helpful in solving your legal problems.
Last Modified: 02-22-2018 07:20 PM PSTLaw Library Disclaimer
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