There are three different types of conspiracy. There can be a civil conspiracy, where people (individuals or a group) agree to deceive, mislead, or defraud others of their legal rights or to gain an unfair advantage in a business transaction. The conspirators can be sued in civil court for damages, but they won't necessarily face criminal charges. There can be the political type of conspiracy - very similar to the civil example - where people come to an agreement with the goal of gaining political power or of meeting a social objective. Again, they may face certain consequences, but not necessarily criminal. When conspiracy becomes criminal, it violates California Penal Code Section 182 and depending upon the circumstances, the defendants can be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor.
The Criminal Conspiracy
In criminal conspiracy in California, two or more persons agree to commitment a crime. At least one of the persons completes an overt act to carry out the conspiracy. There is a specific intent to commit a crime requiring that the defendant(s) have the intent to commit an offence, which is the object of the conspiracy.
When an act of conspiracy is "overt" it means that any act taken by any of the co-conspirators that goes beyond planning or talking or setting an agreement. It does not have to be an illegal act and may not even be an element of the crime, but it must be an act which is in furtherance of accomplishing the conspiracy. For example, if two men were going to agree to break into a store, the act of purchasing any tools or equipment required for completion of the crime is enough to show an "overt" act to carry out the conspiracy.
Another example, several people are conspire to sell drugs. One person purchases baggies and another acquires a scale. Neither have touched the drugs, but both can be charged with conspiracy to commit a crime (to sell drugs) along with the person who purchased a sufficient quantity of drugs where it is presumed that they intended to sell drugs.
All parties of a conspiracy are equally responsible for the actions of anyone else who is a party to the agreement of the conspiracy. When an act of conspiracy results in a death, all can be charged with murder even if all members of the conspiracy had no idea nor an intention of hurting anyone.
Consequences of Conspiracy
Conspiracy can include white collar crime, burglary, vandalism, sale or purchase of narcotics, fraud - any criminal act where more than one person planned the commission of the crime. All cases of conspiracy may be prosecuted and tried in California Superior Court. If proven, an act of conspiracy can bring potentially severe consequences. Conspiracy is a "wobbler" - they can be treated either like a felony or a misdemeanor. The penalties you face for your participation in a conspiracy is usually based on the penalties imposed for the underlying offense.
For most felony conspiracies, defendants face whatever penalty is usually issued for the felony. If there are "degrees" of felony (e.g., First Degree, Second Degree), then the jury/court will first determine the degree of the felony conspired and the penalty issued will be according to the degree. If the degree is not determined, then the penalty can be for the lesser degree unless the conspiracy is to commit murder in which case, the defendants all face murder in the first degree.
If the defendants conspired to commit two or more felonies that have different penalties, then the prosecution will likely seek the highest possible penalty. In the case of felony conspiracy against an official (e.g., law enforcement, court), defendants automatically face up to nine years in state prison.
Generally speaking, the financial penalty for any conspiracy will not exceed $10,000, with a high possibly of prison and the fine. A felony conviction for conspiring to commit identity theft (Section 530.5), the court may impose a fine of up to $25,000.
Defenses for Conspiracy
Conspiracy is a very serious charge. However, there are several defenses to the accusation, and there are many ways to defend such a case. The Law Offices of Stull & Stull has extensive experience in defending conspiracy a violation of Penal code section 182 cases. If you or someone you know has been charged with conspiracy, contact us immediately to discuss a plan to successfully defend your case. Remember the consultation is free.