Criminal Law

What Is a Criminal Conspiracy?

By Jessica Gillespie, Legal Researcher and Editor
A criminal conspiracy is an agreement to commit a crime combined with some kind of step toward committing the crime.

The laws defining criminal conspiracy vary by state, but the offense typically centers on an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime. For example, if two guys enter into an agreement to murder someone, they can likely be convicted of criminal conspiracy.

In many states, the plotters must do something to move their plan forward (called an “overt act”) in order to be guilty of conspiracy. But the overt act doesn’t have to itself be illegal. Suppose, for example, that Amy and Sarah agree to rob a food truck and then go out to get knives and masks. Buying knives and masks is not inherently illegal, but because the women have agreed to commit a crime, the purchases can be used as evidence that they’ve committed an overt act to further their plan.

Criminal conspiracy is classified differently depending on jurisdiction. In some states, conspiracy is a misdemeanor, while in others the crime is a felony. In many cases, conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor is classified as a misdemeanor, while conspiring to commit a felony is classified as a felony. (But the punishment for a felony conspiracy conviction will often be lighter than the punishment imposed for committing the intended crime.)

It’s also possible to be convicted of both criminal conspiracy and the intended crime. So, for example, if three people agree to burglarize a house and then go through with the act, they could all be convicted of both burglary and conspiracy. On the other hand, the group doesn’t have to complete the intended crime in order to be convicted of conspiracy. In that case, the agreement to commit the crime and the commission of an overt act (like meeting to plan the crime) will typically be enough.

Conspiracy can be both a crime and a tort, meaning that conspirators can face both criminal punishment and civil liability. If a conspiracy results in damage or injury, the victim can sue the conspirators for money in civil court even if the government has prosecuted them in criminal court.

For more information on conspiracy laws and penalties in your state, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Go to the main crime definitions FAQ page.

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