Conspiracy to Commit a Crime Explained
Being charged with conspiracy to commit a crime can result in significant penalties, including fines and prison time. Even if a person’s role in the crime is small, they can suffer serious consequences.
In Colorado, “a person commits conspiracy to commit a crime if, with the intent to promote or facilitate its commission, he agrees with another person or persons that they, or one or more of them, will engage in conduct which constitutes a crime or an attempt to commit a crime, or he agrees to aid the other person or persons in the planning or commission of a crime or of an attempt to commit such crime.” C.R.S. 18-2-201. The statute requires three elements to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt:
- There was an agreement,
- Between two or more parties,
- To commit an unlawful act that amounts to a crime.
How Is Conspiracy to Commit a Crime Proven?
People v. Dowell, 510 P.2d 436 (1973). If it sounds easy to prove a conspiracy, that is because it is. In fact, a person can be found guilty of conspiracy even if the goal of conspiracy is not achieved.
However, there are some caveats to proving a conspiracy. One significant caveat is that the agreement must be real and definite. A person cannot be convicted of conspiracy by merely knowing about the plan and not doing anything to stop it. Dressel v. People, 483 P.367 (1971).
For example, John, Robert, and William are sitting in John’s apartment. John and Robert begin talking about how they need to get their hands on some money and want to rob a store. William hears this and then leaves the apartment. John and Robert then proceed to go and rob a convenience store. William, while he heard that the other two wanted to rob a store generally, was not part of any plan to rob the specific convenience store that the other two ultimately robbed. William cannot be charged with conspiracy.
Explaining the “Overt Act”
Another important step that must be shown is that one or more of the conspirators took an overt act in the furtherance of the criminal plan. CRS 18-2-201(2). A person commits an “overt act” when they knowingly commit an act in the furtherance of the conspiracy, even small acts. The overt act does not need to be illegal itself.
For example, John and Susan talk about kidnapping James, and they develop a plan to do so. Susan goes to the hardware store and buys duct tape. But, once at the store, she changes her mind and gives up on the plan. She has not yet committed conspiracy to kidnap. However, if she goes through with the purchase, she has now committed conspiracy to kidnap James, and both her and John can be charged. It does not matter that John, himself, didn’t take an overt act.
So-Called “Hub and Spoke” Conspiracies
Conspiracies often involve more than two people. Many times, the involved parties don’t know all the other parties or even their role. However, they are all connected by one of the parties, and all involved have the same illegal goal. These types of situations are known as “hub and spoke” conspiracies. This type of conspiracy is often found in price fixing or illegal drug cases.
An example of this type of conspiracy looks like this: Each month, John receives a shipment of cocaine from South America. Bill and Lindsey don’t know one another, but each buys cocaine from John to sell on the streets. In this example, John is the “hub,” and Bill and Lindsey are the “spokes.” Bill and Lindsey rely on John to obtain the cocaine. John relies on Bill and Lindsey to purchase the cocaine from him. Each is aware of the plan to distribute cocaine and each actively takes steps to accomplish the illegal goal. Together, each has committed conspiracy to distribute cocaine. And while Bill and Lindsey have never met, they are in the conspiracy together because they know John sells cocaine to local dealers.
Defending Against Conspiracy Charges
There are several defenses to the charge of conspiracy. As discussed above, simply knowing about the conspiracy is not sufficient. A party to a conspiracy must first actively agree to participate. Secondly, there must be an overt act to accomplish the scheme. If neither of these two elements are met, a conspiracy has not been committed.
Another defense is “abandonment.” A conspiracy is considered abandoned if the defendant or any of the party fails to commit an overt act toward completing the planned criminal behavior. CRS 18-2-204.
A party to a conspiracy can also remove themselves from the conspiracy by giving timely notice to the other members that he is removing himself from the scheme. Id.
Another method of removing oneself from the conspiracy is to inform law enforcement of the conspiracy and one’s involvement in it. Id.
Conspiracy is often punished with a one-level reduction in Class as it relates to the underlying crime, so a third-degree offense would be penalized as though it were a second-degree offense. But in cases where a criminal statute does not specifically state a penalty in the statute that the offender is being charged under, such as a Class 6 felony or a Class 2 misdemeanor, the underlying offense is a misdemeanor.
What If You’ve Been Accused of Conspiracy?
It does not take much to find oneself involved in a conspiracy. Often, people find themselves charged with conspiracy to commit significant crimes after committing a seemingly small act. If you or someone you know has been charged with conspiracy, you need an experienced attorney to review your case and prepare a strong defense.
The attorneys at The Bussey Law Firm, P.C. have defended many conspiracy charges previously and thoroughly understand what it takes to get charges reduced. Call us at (719) 475-2555 for a consultation.