Conspiracy FAQs

What is a conspiracy?

A conspiracy is “an agreement by two or more persons to commit an unlawful act, coupled with an intent to achieve the agreement’s objective, and [often] action or conduct that furthers the agreement; a combination for an unlawful purpose.” Black’s Law Dictionary 329 (8th ed. 2005).

How many people does it take to conspire?

A conspiracy always requires at least two people.

Is conspiracy a crime in and of itself?

Conspiracy is best thought of as a crime leading up to another crime. Conspiracy ends when the object of the conspiracy is realized (i.e. the unlawful act), or when the conspirators abandon their agreement.

The aim of prosecuting conspiracy is to deal with the special dangers that arise from group activity.

How is a conspiracy defined under federal law?

It is a crime for two or more persons to conspire to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud any agency of the United States in any manner or for any purpose, if one or more of such persons does any act to affect the object of the conspiracy.

Federal law also deals with a number of specific conspiracies: conspiracy against rights of citizens, conspiracy in restraint of trade, conspiracy to monopolize trade, racketeering conspiracies, and conspiracy in bribery in sporting contests, to name a few.

Why are prosecutors always adding conspiracy charges?

The famous jurist Judge Learned Hand once called conspiracy “that darling of the modern prosecutor’s nursery.” Conspiracy charges afford prosecutors several advantages. First of all, it gives them a legal means of stopping criminal behavior before it is fully realized. All it takes to file a conspiracy charge is an agreement and an overt act. The prosecutor doesn’t have to wait until the crime is complete to take action.

In addition, conspiracy charges give prosecutors important procedural advantages. For example, joining a number of individuals together as co-conspirators increases the likelihood of conviction because the evidence won’t be limited to the acts of just one person. Conspiracy also allows a prosecutor greater latitude in selecting a venue, a place where the case will be heard. The conspiracy can be prosecuted either where it was formed or where any of the overt acts took place.

What are some of the defenses to conspiracy?

Remember that a conspiracy isn’t a conspiracy until two things happen: (1) an agreement is made; and (2) one of the conspirators performs some overt act.

Withdrawal is a defense to conspiracy. If you enter into a conspiracy agreement and then change your mind before a co-conspirator performs an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy, you have a defense. However, you just can’t say “I quit!” or just walk away. To withdraw from a conspiracy, you must take some affirmative action either to disavow or to defeat the purpose of the conspiracy, and you also have to inform your co-conspirators of your withdrawal.

If you find yourself involved in a conspiracy and you want out, it would be a good idea to contact a competent white-collar criminal defense attorney immediately to make sure you take the proper steps to disavow and/or defeat the conspiracy in the manner that best protects your interests.

What can happen if I’m convicted of conspiracy?

The punishment is a fine or imprisonment for not more than five years or both.

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