Conspiracy: What is it?

Conspiracy- What is it?
by Sue Basko

Conspiracy is when two or more people plan to commit a crime and at least one of them takes some step toward the furtherance of that crime.  If the plan is to overthrow the government, there does not need to be any step taken, just the plan is enough for conspiracy to exist.   CLICK HERE to read what it means to “advocate the overthrow of government.”  

There are federal conspiracy laws and most states have state conspiracy laws. 

Conspiracy charges can turn a small incident into a major crime.  Sometimes police recklessly use conspiracy charges to harass protesters.  For example, Occupy San  Diego protesters planned to heckle a speech by the mayor, and then they did interrupt the speech.  They were charged with a misdemeanor of disturbing a public assembly and also with felony conspiracy charges.  Apparently these charges were later dropped, but such high charges lead to high bail demands, often spending many days in jail until the bail is lowered,  expenses, and fear. 

Federal conspiracy charges are often lodged against people allegedly planning domestic terrorism.  There has been a whole string of these cases lately and they go something like this:  the FBI sends in a person who befriends the subjects.  The FBI agent becomes whatever the subjects need – a sexy female neighbor, a friend to go out with to a pancake house, a confidant.  The agent lays the groundwork so the subjects open up and talk about their interest in breaking some law – for example, their interest in battling the police, or their desire to put bombs someplace.  The agent also helps them take some step in furtherance of that goal.  Bam!  – they are arrested and charged with felony conspiracy to commit domestic terrorism.

For conspiracy to exist, the plan does not have to be completed, and never is, if there is an agent involved.  The subjects are arrested so the act cannot be completed. 

For conspiracy to exist, the plan does not even have to be possible for the subject to complete.  

If a person joins a conspiracy after certain statements are made, they can be held accountable for those statements.  If you join up with a group of two or more planning to commit a crime, you may be inheriting their prior statements.

You can leave a conspiracy before any act is committed, but the withdrawal must be clearly stated.  This is interesting because I think in most instances where a person has become involved in a criminal plan and wants to get out, they will not announce this to the other members, but will merely shy away.  Perhaps it would be wise for such a person to make a clear statement to someone else.  If there is actually a serious plan to harm any person or property, it may be wise either to report this to the police, or wiser still, to tell a lawyer and ask them to help you officially withdraw from the conspiracy.

CLICK HERE to see a concise write-up on federal Conspiracy law.


18 U.S.C. § 371 : US Code - Section 371: Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud United States

If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

If, however, the offense, the commission of which is the object of the conspiracy, is a misdemeanor only, the punishment for such conspiracy shall not exceed the maximum punishment provided for such misdemeanor.