What Constitutes a Criminal Conspiracy?


A criminal conspiracy charges occurs when two or more people conspire to commit almost any illegal act, and then take some type of action towards completing that illegal act. The specific action that they take does not need to be illegal; rather, it just has to be an act that would contribute to the illegal act that they conspired to commit. It is important to note that an actual crime is not needed to prosecute a conspiracy case, only the stated intent to break the law is needed.

There is, however, a difference between conspiracy and accomplice conspiracy because in the case where there is an accomplice there is not, necessarily, the knowledge that a crime is the end goal. In a conspiracy, however, all individuals involved know that they intend on committing a crime. Interestingly, an accomplice in a crime does not have to be involved from the beginning, nor do they have to know the end goal of the crime—so long as they participate in an activity (an overt act) having to do with the crime being committed, they can be held just as liable as the individual charged with the crime.

Wharton’s Rule

This rule makes it so that two individuals cannot be prosecuted for conspiring to commit a specific offense when said offense can only be committed by two people.  This law is also known as concert-of-action rule. Wharton’s Rule also states that all of the individuals can be charged if another person is added to the conspiracy in order to make the reward larger.  A conspiracy then, must have more than one person involved in the commission of any action aimed at committing an illegal act, however, the act cannot be charged as a conspiracy unless the action itself can be done by one person.

 Conspiracy on the State Level

In California, the conspiracy statute is Penal Code section 182.  At the state level, there are many more crimes that can be classified as a conspiracy. State Court requires that only general intent to violate the law is necessary for a charge of conspiracy. The only thing that is needed in order to charge an individual with conspiracy is an agreement to engage in an illegal act. Most states have laws that make it so that conspiracy charges cannot be pressed if no actions were taken to commit the crime. These laws enable people to avoid being prosecuted for having thoughts about breaking the law. In many cases the conspiracy to commit a certain crime is looked at as being as severe as committing the crime itself.

Federal Conspiracy Charges

The federal conspiracy statute is 18 U.S.C. section 371.     In Federal Court more cases often involve a charge of conspiracy; this is because the cases in Federal Court are often more complex. Prosecutors often charge people with conspiracy because they don’t have sufficient evidence to show an individual’s direct involvement in a crime. On the federal level it’s not necessary for a crime to be committed, the perpetrators can still be prosecuted under the law.  The two most common types of conspiracies that are prosecuted in federal court are a Conspiracy to Commit a Federal Crime and a Conspiracy to Defraud the United States. A conspiracy to commit a federal crime requires that the underlying crime being committed is illegal under federal statutes. A conspiracy to defraud the United States does not require that the underlying crime be illegal under federal statutes.

The federal maximum penalty for a criminal conspiracy is 5 years, but this time can be increased if there were other state and/or federal violations committed. Most federal cases have a statute of limitations of five years, however, there are some that have increased the length of the statute of limitations to 10 years.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a conspiracy or as an accomplice, contact Orange County criminal defense attorney Karren Kenney for assistance.





Skip to content