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What is a Conspiracy Charge? Elements & Examples

Jenica Shorey, Amy Bonn
  • Author
    Jenica Shorey

    Jenica has taught elementary students for the last 5 years. She has her Bachelor's degrees in Special Education and English from Bridgewater State University and is currently earning her Master's degrees in Special Education and Literacy from the University of Northern Colorado. She has her initial Colorado teaching license and has tutored and taught extensively in many subject areas.

  • Instructor
    Amy Bonn

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

Learn about conspiracy. Understand what a conspiracy charge is, identify the elements that constitute criminal conspiracy, and see examples of conspiracy. Updated: 06/02/2022

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What is a Conspiracy Charge?

A conspiracy charge is the legal intervention against an individual or individuals for the crime of conspiracy. Conspiracy's definition in law refers to the agreement or effort between two or more parties to commit an illegal act. To qualify as conspiracy, four things are necessary:

  1. the clear presence of an agreement to achieve an illegal goal
  2. the agreement exists between two or more people
  3. the intent on the part of all people involved to commit the crime
  4. at least one party's overt movement in the direction of achieving the illegal goal

The last element or requirement necessary for a criminal charge should be clarified here. While sometimes the parties of a conspiracy do not follow through on the criminal activity agreed upon, there are many things that can be considered overt actions toward the end goal of criminal activity. In a court of law, an overt act can be proved in many different ways since it is defined simply as any action by any individual within the conspiracy to further the ultimate illegal goal. It could be as simple as a receipt from the hardware store proving that one person bought a tool to be used in breaking into the bank the next day, even if the robbery never took place. It is evidence of an overt act and could be enough for a conspiracy charge, provided all three other elements are present.

The Agreement Requirement

The agreement requirement is arguably the most important of the four requirements. It demands that in order for there to be a conspiracy charge there must have been an agreement to act on something illegal. Although the court does have the burden of proof in proving someone's involvement, an agreement does not require physical evidence, the commission of the crime, or a verbal or handshake agreement. Sometimes the surrounding circumstances are enough to suggest an agreement. For example, on Monday, Billy decides to ask his friend Ted to help him and they conspire with each other to kill Billy's coworker Bob on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Ted comes to Billy's house with duct tape, trash bags, and a tire iron. Even if they never successfully kill Bob, there is a clear agreement between them to commit the act.

Although a conspiracy is by definition an agreement between people, a unilateral conspiracy is one where only one person is guilty. This could be in the case of a person attempting to conspire with an undercover police officer or with someone who thinks it is a joke. When there is no intention on the part of one individual, the other can and will still be charged where conspiracy is present.

Two or More People Involved

Although the rules of charging individuals based on the agreement alone vary from state to state, it is widely held that conspiracy requires the involvement of two people. The unilateral approach to conspiracy suggests that both parties do not need to be guilty; just one person needs to have a guilty mind, also called mens rea. The bilateral conspiracy, on the other hand, means both parties have guilty minds and this is required in certain states for a conspiracy charge.

For example, an undercover police officer joins a gang. He becomes close with two of the gang members and the three of them make an agreement to hold up a convenience store. Two of the three co-conspirators had criminal intent, so this would be considered a conspiracy charge. However, if the undercover officer had only made an agreement with one of them, in some states this would not meet the requirements.

The Intent Requirement

In most states, the intent requirement for a conspiracy charge means that both parties must have a specific intent or a specific illegal goal in mind. If the guilty mind is present, also called mens rea, in a court of law, then this requirement is met. If there is more than one person or party involved in a conspiracy, then at least two must have a guilty mind to be considered to have a specific intent. To use the previous undercover agent example, if the same officer had only made an agreement with one person in the gang to hold up the store, things would have been different. In most states, this would not be considered conspiracy since the undercover officer never had any actual intent to follow through on the illegal activity.

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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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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the elements of a conspiracy charge?

The elements of a conspiracy charge require the four following elements:

1) An agreement to commit a crime

2) The agreement is between two or more people

3) An overt act takes place for the furtherance of the crime

4) Each party has specific intent to commit the crime

What is an example of a conspiracy charge?

An example of a conspiracy charge could be two people that make an agreement to kill someone and buy the weapons to do it. They are charged with conspiracy, even if they never fully follow through on killing the person.

What does being charged with conspiracy mean?

Being charged with conspiracy means someone engaged in the act of criminal conspiracy. A conspiracy charge means that two or more people made an agreement toward some illegal goal and made some step toward that end.

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