What Is a Conspiracy?
A criminal conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime, followed by the commission of an overt act in furtherance of that crime. Conspiracy is a common charge in the context of white-collar crimes.
The charge of conspiracy is separate from the underlying crime. Because conspiracy is the crime of forming a criminal agreement, it does not merge with the actual offense and a defendant need not actually commit the substantive crime to be charged with conspiracy.
In order to be found guilty of conspiracy, a defendant must knowingly and voluntarily enter into the criminal agreement with the intention of completing the underlying crime. Therefore, a person who unknowingly helps a group commit a crime has not, thereby, engaged in a criminal conspiracy. Once an agreement has been entered into, however, if any member then commits an overt act in furtherance of the underlying crime, all members can be guilty of criminal conspiracy.
What Is an Overt Act?
An overt act is any action taken by any member of the conspiracy with the goal of furthering or completing the substantive crime. The overt act does not have to be illegal itself. In fact, most overt acts are innocuous legal actions such as opening a bank account, researching online, or engaging in a telephone conversation. Notably, only a single overt act needs to be proven, and therefore conspiracy cases rarely fail due to the lack of an overt act.
Withdrawal from a Conspiracy
Defendants can be liable for an array of crimes committed by co-conspirators during the commission of the conspiracy. To sever the liability, a defendant can withdraw from a conspiracy before its completion. In order to withdraw, a defendant must (1) affirmatively communicate his or her withdrawal to any co-conspirators and (2) take steps in opposition to the completion of the conspiracy objective.
Penalties for Conspiracy
The penalty for a conspiracy charge can be equal to the penalty for the underlying crime. Additionally, defendants can be found guilty of the substantive crime itself, as well as for other crimes committed by co-conspirators during the completion of the conspiracy.
Our attorneys at Freeman Law are familiar with conspiracy charges and defenses to conspiracy. Freeman Law represents companies, executives, and individuals in regulatory and white-collar government investigations and prosecutions. We employ a proactive approach to vigorously defend and strategically position our clients. Contact us today if you are facing conspiracy charges or need legal counsel.