Elements of Conspiracy
A conspiracy occurs when two or more people plot either to carry out a crime or defraud the United States or a government agency, and one of the members of the conspiracy performs an act to further the goal of the conspiracy. The offense is illegal under 18 U.S.C. § 371 and you can still get prosecuted for it even if the conspiracy’s objective is not accomplished.
To get you convicted of conspiracy, the prosecution will have to prove without a reasonable doubt that the four elements of this crime are true.
The four elements of conspiracy include:
1. Presence of an Agreement
This is the first element of a conspiracy charge. To get someone convicted of conspiracy, the prosecutor must prove that two or more persons knowingly and voluntarily entered an agreement to achieve an illegal goal. You should know that this agreement does not have to be formal or written, provided the parties involved entered a mutual agreement to commit something illegal.
For this element, the prosecutor does not have to prove that all the parties met, consented to all the details, or how they would carry out their goal. They simply need to show that two or more people voluntarily accepted to achieve a common illegal objective.
Ordinarily, the prosecutor will rely on circumstantial evidence trying to draw logical conclusions they could draw from the actions and statements of the parties involved in the conspiracy to help find solid proof of the conspiracy.
2. Membership in the Agreement
If the prosecutor can find proof of an agreement for conspiracy, they must also prove that the parties voluntarily joined the conspiracy during its existence. Thus, the prosecution must show that the parties involved in the conspiracy knew of the goal of the conspiracy and joined the conspiracy with the intent to work with the other members of the conspiracy to achieve the agreed-upon goal.
It is not necessary for the parties involved in the conspiracy to know everything about the conspiracy, everyone involved in it, or have played a major role in the conspiracy.
They do not even have to have been a member from the beginning, provided there is enough proof that they willingly joined the conspiracy during its existence.
However, simply associating with members involved or knowing about the conspiracy is not enough to prove that the person was a member of the conspiracy provided that there is no solid proof that they voluntarily joined the conspiracy.
3. Intent To Participate
Intent to participate in a conspiracy is an essential element of this crime. The members of the conspiracy need to be intent on achieving one common purpose, which in this case is the goal agreed upon for the conspiracy. In short, for a person to be accused of conspiracy. They must have a unity of purpose and an agreement to work together toward this common goal. Hence, a prosecutor will consider the mental state of the defendant and try to find proof of their intent to help further the conspiracy’s objective.
4. Overt Acts
To get somebody convicted of conspiracy, at least one of the conspirators must take a step to further the goal of the conspiracy. This is what is known as an overt act. The overt act does not have to be illegal as long as it helps to achieve the illegal goal intended by the conspiracy. Take for example, if there is a conspiracy to rob a bank and one of the co-conspirators rents a car. This can be considered an overt act, since the car will likely be used as a gate-away car for the robbery.
Plus, it is not necessary that the other members of the conspiracy personally participated in the overt act. Co-conspirators will be held accountable for the overt acts made by others.
The prosecutor simply has to prove that the overt act was committed after the agreement to commit a crime was made but before the crime was completed.
Get Some Help
If you or your loved one are under investigation for a conspiracy charge, you are going to need a competent lawyer by your side. We can help you review the case and understand the facts to ensure your rights are effectively protected.
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Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Attorney who has over 21 years of practice defending a variety of cases.