A conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to commit an illegal or unlawful act or to achieve a legal act but by illegal or unlawful means. For example, if “A” robs the house of “B” in order to raise money for charity, it amounts to criminal conspiracy because “A” used illegal means to achieve a legal act.
Generally, conspiracy is considered a common law offense. A civil conspiracy is an agreement between two or more parties to deprive a third party of legal rights or deceive a third party to obtain an illegal objective. The essence of civil conspiracy is damages. The main elements constituting a civil conspiracy are[i]:
- An object to be accomplished,
- Meeting of minds on the objective or course of action,
- One or more overt acts,
Further, proof of malice or an intent to injure, can be included as essential elements.
However, conspiracy is treated as a crime under many jurisdictions when a conspiracy to commit a particular offense occurs. The crime of conspiracy is defined as two or more persons conspiring to commit any crime, together with proof of the commission of an overt act to effect an objective of the agreement[ii].
A conspirator remains a participant in the conspiracy unless and until s/he communicates a decision to renounce the agreement. Likewise, a person who joins a conspiracy after its formation is equally guilty with the original conspirators[iii]. It is to be noted that a conspirator is liable for the acts of his/her co-conspirators.
There are various elements that constitute conspiracy. A criminal conspiracy will be complete if it fulfills the following main elements[iv]:
- An agreement about the objective of the conspiracy;
- Specific intent to achieve that object;
- An overt act in furtherance of the agreement.
Conspirators are jointly liable in conspiracy. If a defendant claims that s/he was not present at the time of the alleged conspiracy, or if s/he was unaware about the means to be employed for committing conspiracy, or defendant was put under coercion by the co-conspirator to commit conspiracy, these will not amount to a defense in criminal conspiracy.
[i] Meineke Discount Muffler v. Jaynes, 999 F.2d 120 (5th Cir. Tex. 1993)
[ii] People v. Swain, 12 Cal. 4th 593 (Cal. 1996)
[iii] United States v. Blackwell, 954 F. Supp. 944 (D.N.J. 1997)
[iv] United States v. Wallace, 85 F.3d 1063 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1996)