Criminal Conspiracy

2012-06-08 11:50:52

Conspiracy is a crime that requires (1) an intent to commit a crime, (2) an agreement between two or more persons to commit that crime, and (3) an overt act by one of them in furtherance of the agreement. For example, conspiracy is met when three persons agree to commit a bank robbery and one of the persons gets the bank’s blue prints to plan the robbery.

One purpose for the crime of conspiracy is that it allows police to intervene before the crime that is the object of the conspiracy occurs. In our example, police can intervene and arrest the defendant for conspiracy without waiting for the bank robbery. Here conspiracy allows official intervention before the commission of the (harmful) substantive crime that is the goal of the conspiracy.

Now assume that our conspirators go ahead and commit the bank robbery. In some jurisdictions, the defendants can still be charged with conspiracy. In this situation the crime is justified because collective action presents a greater risk to society than individual action and so warrants additional punishment. Collective action is more dangerous because it makes success of the crime more likely.

Prosecutors like to charge conspiracy because it gives them several advantages. Recognizing this, in 1925 in Harrison v. U.S., Judge Learned Hand famously called conspiracy ‘‘that darling of the modern prosecutor’s nursery.’’ Because of these advantages and some vagueness in the definition of the crime, it is controversial.


References and Further Reading

  • Brickey, Kathleen F. Corporate Criminal Liability: A Treatise on the Criminal Liability of Corporations, Their Officers, and Agents }} 6:01-6:28 (2d ed. 1992).
  • Johnson, Phillip, The Unnecessary Crime of Conspiracy, Cal. L. Rev. 61 (1973): 1137.
  • LaFave, Wayne R. Criminal Law }} 12.1–12.4, 4th ed., 2003.
  • Marcus, Paul, Conspiracy: The Criminal Agreement in Theory and in Practice, Geo. L. J. 65 (1977): 925.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Harrison v. United States, 7 F.2d 259, 263 (2d Cir. 1925)

See also Chicago Seven Trial