The offense of conspiracy is an agreement among conspirators to commit an offense attended by an act of one or more of the conspirators to effect the object of the conspiracy. Conspiracy imports a corrupt agreement between two or more persons with guilty knowledge[i]. The term “knowledge” as used in the criminal law has long had a very distinct and definite meaning. It specifies that the mens rea needed to establish the crime be that of general intent[ii].
In order 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. However, a person having no knowledge of a conspiracy cannot be considered a conspirator. In other words, a person’s connection with a conspiracy cannot be legally established without his/her knowledge or concurrence[iii].
Guilty knowledge must be proved against each conspirator. However, it is only necessary to prove that a defendant conspirator has such guilty knowledge. It is immaterial that how or when he/she acquired the same. Similarly, liability as a conspirator is not dependent on knowledge of the entire scope of the conspiracy. It is to be noted that knowledge need not extend to all the details of the conspiracy, identity of other conspirators, or the part for each member of the conspiracy[iv].
However, mere knowledge of the existence of a conspiracy, without a showing of some degree of knowledge in the conspiracy agreement will not make a person liable as a co-conspirator[v]. It was observed in United States v. Lopac, 411 F. Supp. 2d 350 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) that, like all other material elements of a crime, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew or consciously avoided knowledge of the object of the conspiracy.
[i] People v. Candib, 129 N.Y.S.2d 176 (N.Y. County Ct. 1954)
[ii] United States v. Blair, 54 F.3d 639 (10th Cir. Okla. 1995)
[iii] People v. Candib, 129 N.Y.S.2d 176 (N.Y. County Ct. 1954)
[iv] Amato v. Commonwealth, 3 Va. App. 544 (Va. Ct. App. 1987)
[v] United States v. Lopac, 411 F. Supp. 2d 350 (S.D.N.Y. 2006)