Conspiracy is sometimes referred to as the "darling of the federal prosecutor." The legal idea of "conspiracy" is a commonlaw concept that predates the founding of the United States. It wasn't until the U.S. Civil War, however, that "conspiracy" became the recognizable doctrine that it is today.
Simply put, a conspiracy is an agreement by two or more people to commit a crime and at least one of the people within the agreement makes an overt act in furtherance of that agreement. For example, suppose Neil and Chris make an agreement to rob a bank later in the week. Then suppose Neil buys two ski masks so they can conceal their appearances during the robbery. Neil and Chris are now all guilty of the crime of conspiracy. This is true irrespective of whether they ultimately rob the bank or not.
If you look at this hypothetical example, you can see why federal prosecutors love the idea of conspiracy so much. Although it is unlikely they would bring conspiracy charges in this limited hypothetical, they can. And if they decided to, they don't need to prove that the bank robbery was actually committed or even close to being committed. They don't even need to prove that Neil and Chris actually were the ones who were going to rob the bank. They don't even need to prove that Neil and Chris even knew the identity of the actual robbers. Neil would be just as guilty of the conspiracy even if Chris ends up robbing the bank with a guy who Neil doesn't even know. All the government needs to prove to convict Neil for the conspiracy is that he made an agreement with at least one other person to commit a crime and someone within that agreement committed an overt act in furtherance of the agreement.
While this kind of criminal agreement is illustrative of how the conspiracy doctrine works, to truly understand the power of conspiracy, it is perhaps more illustrative to think about it in terms of a narcotics conspiracy. Suppose there is an enormous operation that involves ten people who are divided between three locations: Colombia, Miami, and New York. Suppose three people grow coca leaves in Colombia and process it into cocaine. Two other people then transport the cocaine from Colombia and smuggle it into Miami. Then suppose one person then drives the cocaine from Miami to New York. Finally, suppose four people then sell that cocaine out on the streets of New York. Every single one of these people is guilty of being in a conspiracy to violate the narcotics laws of the United States. It is of no consequence that the people who sell the cocaine in the streets of New York never even met the Colombian part of the conspiracy. Nor does it matter that the people in Colombia never even entered the United States. These people all made an agreement with at least one other person to violate a United States Law and there was at least one overt act. To truly understand conspiracy, let's even take it a step further. Suppose this conspiracy has been in place for ten years. Further suppose there is now an eleventh person and this eleventh person introduced the New York drug dealers to a friend of his so that the friend can buy some of the cocaine from the dealers so he can resell it in New Jersey. Suppose that introduction was the only contact that the eleventh person or his friend had with this established conspiracy of 10 years. It makes no difference. The eleventh person and the friend are now just as guilty of being a part of that conspiracy as if they were there from the beginning of it. So is the accountant who knowingly launders their money.
Being a part of any conspiracy to violate a federal law is its own crime and it is serious. In addition, many federal statutes have a conspiracy component to them. For example, the conspiracy law is written into the federal drug laws. It is also written into the federal bank robbery statute. This makes it especially easy for the government to prevail against individuals accused of a crime because they can be convicted of the conspiracy even if there isn't enough evidence to convict them of the actual criminal goal of the conspiracy.
There are, however, defenses to conspiracy laws. If you or a loved is has been arrested for being a part of a criminal conspiracy, it is imperative that you hire an experienced attorney. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today for a free consultation.