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What Exactly is a Criminal Conspiracy?

Legal law concept imageWe hear the word “conspiracy” thrown around in everyday conversation to apply to all sorts of things, and it’s generally used to refer to any type of secret agreement among parties to act in concert towards a common goal. But in the context of criminal law, “conspiracy” is actually a crime separate and apart from the actual crime that the parties conspired to commit. Which means that law enforcement and prosecutors can often much more easily produce enough evidence to bring a conspiracy charge than the charge for the underlying crime.

What is the Definition of a Criminal Conspiracy?

Under both federal and Oklahoma law, a criminal conspiracy is an agreement between two or more parties to commit a crime where at least one party has committed an overt act in furtherance of the criminal conspiracy. There is no requirement that the overt act itself be illegal; any overt act can suffice.

Thus, where two people have agreed to commit a crime – such as robbing a bank or murdering a person or distributing illegal narcotics – and at least one of those parties has taken an overt step in furtherance of committing the crime (e.g. obtaining a getaway car, buying a murder weapon, or contacting a drug supplier), then both people can be found guilty of conspiracy even if they got no further in their plans to commit the crime.

The penalties for conspiracy can be extremely high, in many cases on par with the penalty for the underlying crime. Thus, prosecutors often try to bring conspiracy charges if it is difficult to prove that the defendants committed the actual crime they planned to commit. In the famous Martha Stewart insider trading case, there was not enough evidence to commit Ms. Stewart of insider trading, but prosecutors were able to win a conviction for her conspiracy to commit crimes with her broker.

What is the Difference Between Conspiracy and Aiding and Abetting?

Conspiracy and “aiding and abetting” (also called “accomplice liability”) are often thrown together in conversation as if they were the same, but they are two different crimes. As stated above, a conspiracy is an agreement between two or more parties to commit a crime where at least one party has taken an overt act in committing the crime.

With aiding and abetting, one party is committing the actual crime, while a second party is taking an action to encourage or assist in that crime. This can include providing comfort or aid to the perpetrator of the crime, providing the perpetrator with tools or funds to commit the crime, or simply egging them on. There is no requirement that the person aiding or abetting have entered into an agreement with the perpetrator to commit the crime. A person who aided and abetted can actually be charged with the underlying crime committed by the perpetrator, even if he or she didn’t take any physical action to commit the crime, so long as assistance or encouragement was offered.
Get Professional Defense in a Conspiracy Charge or Investigation

Because a conspiracy charge can be relatively easy to prove, and can bring steep penalties, it is important to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney who has defended against conspiracy charges, and will provide you with your best defense.

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