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Elements of the Crime

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 in furtherance by one or more of the parties to such agreement[i].  However, mere association of two or more persons will not constitute a criminal conspiracy[ii].  The main elements of conspiracy are a specific intent, an agreement with another person to engage a crime to be performed, and the commission of an overt act by one of the conspirators in furtherance of the conspiracy[iii].

An unlawful agreement is an element of a criminal conspiracy.  Generally, the crime of conspiracy is complete when parties enter into a conspiratorial agreement.  Moreover, if there is an agreement between two or more persons for an unlawful purpose, it is considered a criminal conspiracy even where there is no agreement regarding the details of the criminal scheme or the means by which the unlawful purpose will be accomplished.  The agreement will determine whether single or multiple conspiracies exist between the parties.  A single conspiratorial agreement will constitute a single criminal conspiracy and multiple agreements to commit separate crimes will constitute multiple conspiracies.

Similarly, conspiracy is considered a specific intent crime.  A specific intent crime is one in which a person acts with knowledge of what he/she is doing and also with the objective of completing some unlawful act[iv].  The intent can be determined from words, acts, and conduct.  If the conspirators agree or conspire with specific intent to kill and commit an overt act in furtherance of such agreement, then they are guilty of conspiracy to commit express malice murder[v].

Another element that constitutes criminal conspiracy is knowledge.  To be more specific, to make a person liable for criminal conspiracy as a coconspirator, he/she must have knowledge of the existence of the conspiracy and knowledge of the illegal object of the conspiracy.  At the same time, a person having no knowledge of a conspiracy cannot be considered a conspirator.

Similarly, in order to satisfy the statute, the government must prove that a conspirator committed an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.  A conspiracy conviction requires proof of the commission of at least one overt act by one of the conspirators within the five-year statutory period in furtherance of the conspiratorial agreement[vi].

[i] People v. Swain, 12 Cal. 4th 593 (Cal. 1996)

[ii] Sanders v. State, 110 Nev. 434 (Nev. 1994)

[iii] Lacy v. State, 673 So. 2d 820 (Ala. Crim. App. 1995)

[iv] United States v. Blair, 54 F.3d 639 (10th Cir. Okla. 1995)

[v] People v. Swain, 12 Cal. 4th 593 (Cal. 1996)

[vi] United States v. Manges, 110 F.3d 1162 (5th Cir. Tex. 1997)

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