At OSBORNE LAW, people ask us all the time about the crime of Conspiracy. Usually, the questions go like this:
- What does it mean to "conspire" to commit a crime? And,
- How can it be a crime to "conspire" to do something without actually having done it?
The crime of Conspiracy has two parts. First, two or more people agree that they will commit a crime together (or work together to bring about an illegal result). Secondly, one conspirator does something to start implementing the plan (i.e., the Conspiracy).
According to New Hampshire law, RSA 629:3:
- A person is guilty of Conspiracy if, with a purpose that a crime defined by statute be committed, he agrees with one or more persons to commit or cause the commission of such crime, and an overt act is committed by one of the conspirators in furtherance of the Conspiracy.
With the above law and explanation in mind, let's look at some examples whereby one may or may not be charged with Conspiracy. Before we do, however, please keep in mind that the crime of Conspiracy is mainly about figuring out what was going on in someone's head. What was the true intent of the alleged conspirators? What was the nature of their agreement? Was there coercion? Did the alleged conspirators come up with a real and true plan to commit a crime? Were they just blowing off steam and fantasizing about life after hypothetically cleaning out a bank vault, a bank account, or the sudden absence of a spouse?
Joe Teller and Frida Banker work together at the same bank, No Steal Credit Union (NSCU).
NSCU has $500,000 cash sitting in the bank vault. The cash won't be there long, just for a few days. Eventually, the $500,000 will be transferred to a larger branch of NSCU.
Joe Teller and Frida Banker are both well aware of the $500,000 in the vault. Joe Teller and Frida Banker are having lunch together. The conversation goes like this:
Joe Teller: Hey Frida, can I snag one of your French fries?
Frida Banker: Sure, but you really need to start buying your own fries.
Joe Teller: Well, if I could get my hands on the $500,000 in the vault, I could buy us enough fries to last a lifetime.
Frida Banker: That is true Joe. But, how would we ever get the money out of there without getting caught?
Joe Teller: Easy! All we have to do is throw some lit matches in the front lobby trash can. When the trash can starts smoking and everyone is distracted, I will run to the vault with a neon purple bag. I will throw the $500,000 in the bag and run out the backdoor.
Frida Banker: Why would you use a neon purple bag?
Joe Teller: Because Frida, a neon purple bag is so blatant and noticeable that no one would ever suspect someone would use it to hide $500,000 cash.
Frida Banker: Good point, Joe! Now, all we need is some matches and a neon purple bag.
Question 1: Have Joe Teller and Frida Banker committed the crime of Conspiracy?
Why: Joe Teller and Frida Banker have not committed the crime of conspiracy because:
- Joe has not asked really asked Frida to join him in stealing the $500,000.
- Frida has not agreed to help Joe steal the $500,000.
- Neither Joe nor Frida has taken any "overt acts" in furtherance of carrying out a conspiracy to steal $500,000.
Now, imagine that Frida Banker says to Joe Teller:
You know Joe, I could use some money. I am all in. Let's take that $500,000 from the vault this afternoon. We'll do it a few minutes before closing time when everyone is tired and anxious to get home.
Frida and Joe agree that they will steel the $500,000 and enact Joe's trash can plan.
Question 2: Have Joe Teller and Frida Banker committed the crime of Conspiracy?
Why: Joe and Frida are certainly closer to committing a conspiracy than before. But, in this example, neither Joe nor Frida have done anything in furtherance of their Conspiracy. Meaning they haven't really done anything to make this crime happen. A conversation about committing a crime is not a crime without some action taken by the conspirators.
Now, imagine that after Joe Teller and Frida Banker agree to steal the $500,00 from the vault, they finish their lunch. Joe buys a neon purple bag, and Frida buys a book of matches.
Question 3: Have Joe Teller and Frida committed the crime of conspiracy?
Why: Joe and Frida have satisfied the two parts of a conspiracy charge:
- Both Joe and Frida agreed to commit a crime;
- And both Joe and Frida each took a step (an overt act) in furtherance of their agreement to carry out the vault theft. Joe bought a neon purple bag to carry the money away, and Frida bought a book of matches with which to light and drop into the lobby trash can.
This is not to say that either Joe or Frida will be convicted at trial. One might imagine a whole bunch of defenses available to Joe and Frida. But, the law of Conspiracy coupled with Joe and Frida's actions, the police would certainly have probable cause to at least arrest Joe and Frida for Conspiracy.
Suppose either Joe or Frida announced to one another or to the police (after buying the bag and matches) that they no longer wished to participate in the vault theft. In that case, they could still be charged with Conspiracy – but either Joe or Frida would at least be able to use their renunciation as a defense against conviction at trial. In all likelihood, either Joe or Frida would probably cut a deal with the prosecutor, receive a light punishment (or get some immunity), and testify against the other.
Both Joe and Frida need to be careful, though. Under the law of Conspiracy, if either Joe or Frida are convicted of Conspiracy to commit Theft, they could both receive the maximum punishment for Theft – even though they never had the chance to actually commit Theft and steel the $500,000 from the vault. New Hampshire RSA 629(3)(IV) says that:
The penalty for Conspiracy is the same as that authorized for the crime that was the object of the Conspiracy, except that in the case of a conspiracy to commit murder the punishment shall be imprisonment for a term of not more than 30 years.
Of course, not every Conspiracy case is as clear or obvious as Joe and Frida's. At OSBORNE LAW, we are happy to stand by you if you or someone you care about has been accused of or implicated in a Conspiracy.