The word conspiracy is generally used to describe theories about aliens and fake moon landings. Criminal conspiracy sounds more like an activity reserved for gangsters, dark rooms, and hushed tones. However, criminal conspiracy charges are among the most common criminal charges in the state of Pennsylvania.
What is Criminal Conspiracy?
The crime of conspiracy must involve an agreement made between two or more people to commit an illegal act. This agreement can be explicit or implied.
An agreement alone does not constitute a criminal conspiracy charge. In order to prove a conspiracy, one or more of the individuals involved in the agreement must commit an "overt act" to facilitate the crime.
To illustrate this point, think of the movie Horrible Bosses. While sitting in a bar one night, the three main characters decide to kill their bosses. Later in the movie, the three men solicit the services of a hitman to carry out their plan.
The conversation that the three characters had while sitting in the bar is not necessarily illegal. The plan becomes a conspiracy with the "overt act" of hiring a hitman.
The underlying crime does not need to be carried out in order for the criminal conspiracy charge to apply. Together, the agreement and "overt act" are enough to constitute a crime. A group of conspirators may be charged with criminal conspiracy even if one or many people involved change their minds, or if the plan is thwarted by law enforcement. The three characters in Horrible Bosses could have been arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy after hiring the hitman- well before their murderous plan went into action.
After the "overt act" is committed, anyone involved in the agreement may be charged. This means that a person may be labeled a conspirator even if his or her role in the planned crime is seemingly insignificant. However, merely being at the scene of a crime is not enough to prove conspiracy- the individual must be involved in committing or planning the crime.
Criminal conspiracy charges can be applied to nearly any criminal act from fraud to drug distribution to murder; therefore, the severity of criminal conspiracy charges varies greatly. The gravity of a criminal conspiracy charge is dependent on the underlying crime. Accordingly, the sentence that a conviction of a criminal conspiracy charge carries varies based on circumstance.
"Guilt by association" and "criminal conspiracy" are not interchangeable- though they are sometimes muddled by law enforcement. Conspiracy charges are serious and can carry substantial additional sentences. If you or a loved one has been charged with criminal conspiracy or any crime, please contact the attorneys at Rehmeyer & Allatt for a free consultation.