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[i]. A conspiracy consists not merely of the intention but the agreement of two or more persons to do an unlawful act, or to do a lawful act by unlawful means[ii]. However, mere association of two or more persons will not constitute a criminal conspiracy[iii].
An unlawful agreement is an element of a criminal conspiracy. A single agreement to commit several crimes constitutes one conspiracy. Similarly, multiple agreements to commit separate crimes constitute multiple conspiracies by the same reasoning[iv]. The precise nature and extent of a conspiracy must be determined by reference to the agreement which embraces and defines its objects.
The agreement remains an essential element of the crime and serves to distinguish conspiracy from aiding and abetting which does not require proof of that fact and from other substantive offenses as well[v]. Generally, the crime of conspiracy is complete when parties enter into a conspiratorial agreement. It is to be noted that 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.
It is not necessary that the participants in a conspiracy be fully aware of the details of the venture as long as they agree on the essential nature of the plan. To obtain a conspiracy conviction, the government must prove that there was an agreement between two or more participants to achieve a particular illegal end.
The agreement need not be an explicit one. It can instead be inferred from the facts and circumstances of the case. A tacit understanding will suffice to show agreement for purposes of a conspiracy conviction. A written or oral statement which expressly communicates agreement is not necessary[vi]. In other words, an agreement that amounts to a conspiracy need not be formal[vii] or express, but may be a tacit understanding[viii].
[i] Lacy v. State, 673 So. 2d 820 (Ala. Crim. App. 1995)
[ii] State v. Carbone, 10 N.J. 329 (N.J. 1952)
[iii] Sanders v. State, 110 Nev. 434 (Nev. 1994)
[iv] United States v. Broce, 488 U.S. 563 (U.S. 1989)
[v] Iannelli v. United States, 420 U.S. 770 (U.S. 1975)
[vi] United States v. Amiel, 95 F.3d 135 (2d Cir. 1996)
[vii] American Tobacco Co. v. United States, 328 U.S. 781 (U.S. 1946)
[viii] United States v. Ruiz, 105 F.3d 1492 (1st Cir. Mass. 1997)