Common Questions in Criminal Defense: What is Criminal Conspiracy?
By: Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney
When many people hear the term “conspiracy,” it can conjure up a certain image. Usually, that image involves a sophisticated group actors, huddling together in secrecy to pull together some complicated scheme. “Conspiracy,” as we often know if from movies or television, often assumes some level of cloak and dagger sophistication. For this reason, many people are surprised and confused when they, or someone they know, find themselves facing an allegation of Criminal Conspiracy. In Pennsylvania, the definition of criminal conspiracy is not only much broader than that, but also far more complicated. Understanding how it relates to a given case can only be reviewed by an experienced criminal attorney with knowledge of that case, but there are some basic principles that apply.
Under Pennsylvania law, a person commits the crime of conspiracy with another person if that person has the intent to promote or facilitate the commission of a crime, and that person either: 1) agrees with one or more people that one or more of them will commit or attempt that crime; or 2) agrees to aid one or more people in planning, committing, or attempting that crime. The law also requires that one of the conspirators performs an “overt act” toward actually committing that crime. Conspiracy is a crime unto itself in Pennsylvania, which means that alleged conspirators are often charged with both the conspiracy and the underlying crime. Conspiracy is also assigned the same gradation as the underlying criminal act, and in some cases the same “offense gravity score.” Put simply, what this means is that Pennsylvania law makes it possible for a person who takes no active role in the actual commission of a crime to be held criminally responsible on the same level as if that person had actually committed the criminal act, if the above elements for conspiracy are met.
When a person is charged with conspiracy, it is absolutely critical to seek the assistance of an experienced criminal attorney. Only your attorney will understand the difference between “mere presence” or association, and actual evidence of a conspiracy. In other words, the law makes a major distinction between just being aware of criminal conduct, or present for its commission, and being involved in a conspiracy. Unfortunately, law enforcement does not always appreciate this distinction, and “guilt by association” often leads to very serious criminal charges. For this reason, it is critical to have the assistance of an experienced criminal attorney at all stages of your case.
If you or someone you know faces charges involving conspiracy, or any other criminal offense, contact a Harrisburg criminal defense lawyer today for a no charge consultation.