What defines criminal conspiracy?
Criminal conspiracy is defined as an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime or to execute an illegal act. Conspiracy crimes defined in a federal case include conspiracy to engage in criminal activity such as:
- Money laundering
- Conspiracy to violate federal laws
- Conspiracy to manufacture drugs or weapons.
- Conspiracy to commit extortion
Conspiracy charges in state court are very similar, but there are many more crimes that will give ascent to state conspiracy charges.
While intent is key in any federal conspiracy case, only “general intent” to violate the law is necessary; proof of the defendants’ specific intent to violate the law is not needed, only an agreement to engage in an illegal act.
The end may be legal, but the planned means are illegal. For example, two individuals plan to steal bread from a supermarket (illegal) to donate to a local food bank (legal) would be guilty of conspiracy.
“U.S.C. Title 18, Chapter 19-prohibits conspiracies to defraud the United States, conspiracies to impede or injure an officer, and conspiracies to commit violent crimes.”
Conspiracy is prohibited in several other federal statutes. It is important to note that an actual crime is not necessary to prosecute a conspiracy case – only the stated intent to break the law. This means that even if the ultimate crime was not committed, the conspirators can be prosecuted under federal law. However, most states have laws that prevent conspiracy charges being pressed if no actions were taken to actually carry out the conspiracy. This prevents people from effectively being prosecuted for having thoughts of breaking the law.
While this caveat does prevent some conspiracy cases from going to court, it does not reduce the severity of a criminal conspiracy claim. In many cases, conspiracy to commit a crime such as murder is regarded as a crime as severe as murder itself.
The federal maximum penalty for criminal conspiracy is five years in prison; however, this may be compounded by other state and federal violations. Depending on the nature of the conspiracy, it may be prosecuted by different entities including the FBI, Department of Justice, or state and local law agencies.