16. What is the crime of “Conspiracy”?
Conspiracy involves an agreement between individuals to commit a crime. Conspiracy is a separate charge or crime than the crime agreed to by the parties. In a conspiracy, each member becomes the agent of the other member(s). Each person in the conspiracy does not have to know all of the details. Each person simply needs to understand that the plan is illegal and knowingly and willfully join in that plan on one occasion. The conspiracy or conspired act does not have to be successful. The formal elements of a conspiracy charge are as follows:
• Multiple People – There must be 2 or more persons.
• Mutual Understanding – In some way or manner, these people must come to a mutual understanding to try to accomplish a common and unlawful plan.
• Willfulness – The defendant must willfully become a member of the conspiracy.
• Overt Act – During the existence of the conspiracy, one of the conspirators must knowingly commit at least one of the “overt acts” described in the indictment (formal charge).
• Purposeful Act – The overt act was knowingly committed in an effort to carry out or accomplish some objective of the conspiracy.
The essence of a conspiracy offense is the making of an agreement followed by the commission of any overt act in furtherance of that agreement. While direct evidence is preferable, circumstantial evidence may be used to prove a conspiracy.
• Discussion: Do you think a person should be liable for conspiracy to commit a crime if they were not involved in the planning of the crime? What if conspirators solicit a third party to commit an illegal act that is part of the conspiracy, but the third party does not know about or agree upon the conspired scheme? How much evidence do you think must be present to demonstrate alleged conspirators have arrived at a mutual understanding?
• Practice Question: Sarah, Jane, and Tommy need money to support their drug habits. They devise a plan to break into April’s house and rob her. As soon as they begin planning, Sarah realizes that this is a very bad idea. She tells Tommy and Jane that she made a mistake and she wants no part of the plan. Tommy and Jane, undeterred by Sarah backing out, go to April’s house to determine the best way to break in. A neighbor notices them creeping around the house and calls the police. The police arrest Tommy, Jane, and Sarah and charge them all with conspiracy. Will Sarah, Jane, and Tommy be found guilty of conspiracy? Why or why not?