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Conspiracy: The stumbled-into crime

November 10, 2011

2. Law

Conspiracy:  The stumbled-into crime

So you talked to some guy.  He asked and you replied, “IF I was going to boost a car, the first things I would make sure of is …”  And you followed it up with, “and that’s a big if – because I ain’t boosting no car.”  A couple of days later, the guy drives up in a car way beyond his financial means.  “Check this out!” he says.  “I did exactly what you told me.  Piece of cake.  Wanna go for a ride?”

Did you just buy yourself a conspiracy charge graded as a Felony 3?  If only it were as simple as “and that’s a big if – because I ain’t boosting no car.”  You’re probably clean, but you’re uncomfortably close to the line.

Here’s the definition of Conspiracy:

A person is guilty of conspiracy with another person or persons to commit a crime if with the intent of promoting or facilitating its commission he:

(1) agrees with such other person or persons that they or one or more of them will engage in conduct which constitutes such crime or an attempt or solicitation to commit such crime; or
(2) agrees to aid such other person or persons in the planning or commission of such crime or of an attempt or solicitation to commit such crime.

Alright, working with that definition, you seem OK.  You did not agree with the guy that one of you would steal a car nor did you agree to aid the guy.  But you did give him advice – that aided him.  In a cold light, you told him how it could be done and only that you would not do it.  That’s where you approach the line.  And it’s graded as an F3 because the crime which was the target of the conspiracy – Theft of a Motor Vehicle – is an F3.  Conspire to burgle a home and you bought an F1.

There’s another piece required in Pennsylvania and most other states:

Overt act.–No person may be convicted of conspiracy to commit a crime unless an overt act in pursuance of such conspiracy is alleged and proved to have been done by him or by a person with whom he conspired.

The overt act in this discussion was the completion of the crime – boosting the car.  But think of a more complex crime like Kidnapping.  The overt act could be renting an isolated cabin or going to Ace Hardware with your Ace Rewards card and buying all the good stuff – rope, duct tape, burlap sacks, and angled steel so you can bolt the chair to the floor.  Even if the Kidnapping doesn’t happen, buying these things may establish the “overt act” requirement.

And be aware that SCOTUS doesn’t require an overt act.  It’s up to the states whether they want to include that provision.  Pennsylvania does.  Your state may not.

The law, in general, is not kind to criminal activity.  Conspiring to commit a crime is just one step removed from committing the crime.  A friend of mine used to say, “If you fail to plan then plan to fail.”  That planning is the conspiracy.  All you have to do is take a step forward from the talking stage – that’s the overt act.  Add this discussion of Accomplice Liability.    What you’ve got is criminal sanctions for everyone anywhere near a crime.  Ain’t worth it, brother.

How can you get out of a conspiracy?  Here’s two paragraphs from the definition link above (I left (2) out):

(1) conspiracy is a continuing course of conduct which terminates when the crime or crimes which are its object are committed or the agreement that they be committed is abandoned by the defendant and by those with whom he conspired;
(3) if an individual abandons the agreement, the conspiracy is terminated as to him only if and when he advises those with whom he conspired of his abandonment or he informs the law enforcement authorities of the existence of the conspiracy and of his participation therein.
[My emphasis]

The conspiracy needs to be abandoned.  You do that by telling the other guys or telling the cops.  Think about that.  The only reason that you’re claiming that you abandoned the conspiracy is because it all went south.  Everyone’s pissed off and scrounging to make bail.  The other guys are going to say, “Yeah.  He came in one day and told us he was out”?  Best of luck with that.  The only rock-solid method is to bust your boys to the cops.  Yikes!  Well, you stumbled into the conspiracy, right?

Now let me fess up.  Yes, I’m playing a tiny bit loose with what it takes to get a Conspiracy charge with the auto theft example.  But my point is that you have to stay as far away as possible from the clowns looking for criminal advice.  And DAs will not hesitate to charge you then drop it provided you cooperate.  From a stupid conversation with an idiot kid to being a fricking snitch:  Nice.

Any involvement could come back to bite you big time.  How big a bite can that be?  Read this rather-long paragraph slowly:

To sustain a conspiracy conviction, the Government must provide substantial evidence that a conspiracy existed and that the defendant knowingly agreed to join that conspiracy. United States v. Carson, 9 F.3d 576, 587 (7th Cir.1993). A conspiracy is a “combination or confederation of two or more persons formed for the purpose of committing, by their joint efforts, a criminal act.” United States v. Gutierrez, 978 F.2d 1463, 1469 (7th Cir.1992). Defendant does not dispute that a conspiracy existed between his co-defendants; rather, he asserts that he never joined that conspiracy. He first argues that he had never met Tammy or Brad and therefore could not have been involved in a conspiracy with them. However, it is well settled that “a conspiracy can exist … even if each participant does not know the identity of the others or does not participate in all the events.” United States v. Shorter, 54 F.3d 1248, 1255 (7th Cir.1995). All that is required is that “a participant know of the others’ existence and their activities to further the conspiracy.” Id. The evidence demonstrated that despite the fact that defendant did not know Tammy and Brad personally, he did know that Quihuis had others who were selling the cocaine that defendant provided him. By supplying the large amounts of cocaine to Quihuis over an extended period of time with knowledge of this fact, defendant joined the conspiracy between Quihuis and his distributors.

You see the harm in conspiring with somebody?  It’s like having sex – you’re conspiring with everyone with whom he’s conspiring!  Just because you got some punk-ass kid in front of you that you’re helping to plan out a crime doesn’t mean that everyone he knows is also a punk-ass kid.  His older brother could be a heavy lifter.  You may be inside a huge conspiracy without knowing it – yet will go down as if you knew every little detail.

A bit of good news:  Since the law is so clear on what conspiracy is, it is by deduction equally clear on what conspiracy is not.  A good attorney can dance the lines to lessen or kill the responsibility for allegedly being involved in a conspiracy.

Take one thing from this post:  If the only people that can testify about what you said to get out of a conspiracy or the fact that you never joined the conspiracy in the first place carry the label “co-defendant,” then your actions are the only things you have for a defense.  When someone approaches you to conspire about committing a crime, shut your mouth and rely on your actions – walk away.  Quickly.

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About Clyde

Clyde is the lead attorney in the firm. Licensed to practice in 1993, he's also taught Constitutional and Criminal Law for several years at a private university, primarily at the Master's level.

View all posts by Clyde

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