What is a Conspiracy in Law? - Definition, Meaning & Examples

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  • 0:04 What Does a Conspiracy…
  • 1:14 There Must Be an Agreement
  • 1:45 Two or More People Involved
  • 2:07 An Illegal Goal or Means
  • 2:49 An Overt Act
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.

What does it take for a plot among people to become the crime of conspiracy? There are four elements that must be met. Check out this lesson to learn the basics of criminal conspiracy.

What Does a Conspiracy Involve?

The laws surrounding conspiracy are interesting because they involve not just illegal acts but also plans for illegal acts. A conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to work together to do something criminal or illegal. Defendants who have committed both conspiracy and the crime that was the goal of the conspiracy, like murder, can be convicted of both the conspiracy and the separate crime of the murder itself. Where is the line drawn between mere talk about a crime and the actual crime of conspiracy?

There are four elements of a conspiracy, including:

  1. There must be an agreement.
  2. The agreement must be between two or more people.
  3. The conspirators must plan to achieve an illegal goal or to accomplish a goal that is not itself illegal, but to go about achieving it by doing illegal things.
  4. At least one conspirator must take an overt act toward accomplishing the goal of the conspiracy.

Let's look at each of these elements more closely.

There Must Be an Agreement

It makes sense that for there to be a conspiracy, there must be a coming together or agreement of the conspirators involved to work together to accomplish an illegal or criminal goal. Some jurisdictions even recognize unilateral conspiracies, in which one party doesn't actually agree with the conspiracy's goals but the other conspirator believes that there was in fact an agreement. However, some states do require an actual agreement among the conspirators.

Two or More People Involved

It makes sense that because a conspiracy involves agreement, one of the elements of the crime is that there must be more than one person. Society has a real interest in clamping down on individuals who join forces for illegal ends, considering the widespread damage that could be done by many people working together for some criminal purpose.

An Illegal Goal or Means

One way for a conspiracy to exist is with two or more conspirators agreeing to commit a criminal or illegal act. We can pretty easily envision, for example, two people plotting to work together to burglarize a house, which is of course a criminal activity.

However, there is a second way for this element to be met. The conspirators may be agreeing to work together to achieve some goal that isn't criminal, but they agree to go about achieving it in an illegal or criminal way. Examples of this type of conspiracy often involve parties who conspire to set up a monopoly on certain goods by cornering a market on those goods in an illegal way.

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