Criminal Law: Understanding “Conspiracy” Charges
When most of us think of the word “conspiracy,” we imagine wild theories about the JFK Assassination or Area 51. Legally, however, conspiracy is a facet of the law that refers to an agreement made by two or more people to take part in some sort of illicit activity in the future. This means you can still face criminal charges if you planned to commit a crime, even if you did not follow through with it.
In Texas, conspiracy charges fall under a section of the penal code known as “Preparatory Offenses.” One can be charged with conspiracy in Texas if he or she, with intent to commit a felony:
- “agrees with one or more persons that they or one or more of them engage in conduct that would constitute the offense” AND
- “he or one or more of them performs an overt act in pursuance of the agreement”
While the State of Texas requires that one or more of the parties involved have actually taken clear action towards committing the illicit act, the US Supreme Court has ruled that the “overt act” aspect of the crime is not necessarily required in federal drug conspiracy cases.
To be charged with conspiracy, the conspirators do not even have to be aware of the identities of their co-conspirators. Furthermore, their agreement to conduct illegal actions does not have to be explicit—it can be inferred from the actions of the conspirators.
In Texas, conspiracy charges fall one category below the most serious felony the conspirators planned to commit, which means the conspiracy charge could range from a First Degree Felony to a Class A Misdemeanor.
Federally, conspiracy is one of the most frequently charged crimes and can involve any agreement to violate federal law or to defraud the United States. Federal criminal conspiracy charges can result in a maximum of five years in prison, but are often compounded by other charges.
Conspiracy relieves the prosecution of the need to prove the roles each conspirator played or planned to play in a crime. To be charged with conspiracy, the prosecutor must simply prove that the conspirators agreed to commit the crime and, in most cases, at least one of the conspirators took action to further their plan to commit an illicit act. Unfortunately, this broad definition can lead to minor players in a conspiracy receiving the same penalties as those who played a major role in the crime, particularly in drug related cases.
The nature of the evidential requirements for charging someone with conspiracy means it can be easy for innocent people or extremely minor participants in a crime to get caught up in undeserved, serious charges. Conspiracy charges require a strong and knowledgeable defense, so please contact the Whalen Law Office and let us fight to defend your rights.