We hear the term conspiracy all the time. Rarely is there a crime drama where a conspiracy charge isn’t filed or threatened; or where there is sentencing for conspiracy. In fact, recently the Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit alleging that the Trump presidential campaign, Russia, Wikileaks, and Trump’s son and son-in-law engaged in a conspiracy to undercut the Democratic 2016 presidential campaign by stealing thousands of emails. Whether true or not, this is a great recent and public example.
All of this makes the term “conspiracy” sound like a complicated legal concept that only involves high stakes criminal activity. It is actually quite simple. A conspiracy is merely an agreement – an agreement to do something illegal. That’s all.
Accordingly, if two people agree to rob a bank, then that is considered a conspiracy. To be a crime, however, most criminal agreements need one other thing – an overt act. That means that one or more of the conspirators has to do some act in furtherance of the criminal agreement. Thus, if two people agree to rob a bank and one of the two buys ski masks, then they have both committed the crime of conspiracy. Of course, if they actually go through with the robbery, then they would have also committed the crime of robbery as well as conspiracy. This would mean that they could be charged and sentenced for both conspiracy and the underlying offense.
Conspiracy is an Inchoate Crime
There are several crimes that are considered “inchoate,” or incomplete, crimes. In other words, the discussion or planning of a crime could be a crime in and of itself without the actual substantive crime being carried out.
In the example above, you can see that agreeing to rob a bank and then buying ski masks is enough to constitute the crime of conspiracy to commit robbery. Even if the robbery did not take place, the conspiracy has already been committed.
Other types of inchoate crimes include solicitation, which is asking someone to commit a crime for you; and attempt, which is trying to commit a crime but failing to do so. For example, if you offered to pay someone to hurt a family member, then you have committed criminal solicitation. Whether or not the person actually hurts your family member, the crime is complete the moment you ask the person to commit the crime. If you tried to shoot someone but missed, then you are guilty of attempted murder. The murder did not occur, but you should still be punished for trying to do it. And the sentencing for conspiracy for such offenses can be severe.
To convict someone of criminal conspiracy, the prosecutor must demonstrate two main things:
- Agreement. The accused entered into an agreement with one or more people to do something illegal. Notably, a person can still be guilty of conspiracy even though the other conspirator was an undercover cop, i.e., not a true conspirator.
- Overt act. One or more of the conspirators engaged in any behavior, criminal or not, that furthers the agreement. If the potential bank robbers in our example above never purchased ski masks nor did anything else to make the robbery a reality, then they could not be arrested for conspiracy. It is worth mentioning that some conspiracies do not require an overt act. For example, federal prosecutors do not need to show an overt act to prove a conspiracy to engage in drug trafficking.
Sentencing for Conspiracy
The crime of conspiracy itself is illegal and carries a criminal penalty. Thus, as noted above, if people conspire to commit and then actually commit a crime, they can be sentenced for both the conspiracy and the completed crime.
The penalty for conspiracy varies depending upon the illegal activity upon which the conspiracy is based. As such, an agreement to steal candy from a corner store will obviously have a lesser punishment than an agreement to murder someone.
Further, the maximum sentence for conspiracy is usually limited to the maximum punishment for the underlying crime. Thus, if an armed robbery carries a 10- to 25-year penalty, conspiracy to commit armed robbery will have a 10- to 25-year penalty.
Federal conspiracy laws are broadly drawn and the penalties vary depending upon the nature of the crime and other mitigating and aggravating factors. It is, therefore, important that you consult an attorney for details about your particular circumstances.
We invite you to consult with Brandon Sample, Esq. A sentencing lawyer, advocate, and activist, Brandon understands the nuances of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, has handled many sentencing matters, and employs the same drive and passion for justice for each and every one of his clients. Contact Brandon for a free case review today. He can be reached at 802-444-HELP.