In California, a criminal conspiracy occurs when two or more people agree to commit a crime and engage in at least one act in furtherance of the perpetration of the planned crime. In general, the penalty for conspiracy is the same penalty as the completed crime. Two or more people planning to commit a crime and taking some act towards committing the crime is a conspiracy even if the crime planned is never committed.
Long Beach criminal lawyer, Matthew Kaestner, brings over 30 years of experience to defense of conspiracy and other serious criminal law cases. To follow is a brief overview of the law of conspiracy in California and some of the defenses to a conspiracy charge.
Conspiracy charges are often brought in white collar cases, narcotics cases, organized crime and gang cases. Conspiracy charges have been popular with prosecutors for a long time. Federal appellate court judge Learned Hand noted in 1925 that conspiracy charges were “the darling of the modern prosecutor’s nursery.” In 1990 one federal court noted that “prosecutors seem to have conspiracy on their word processors as Count I.”
Although prosecutors of state cases in California don’t prosecute conspiracy charges nearly as frequently as their federal counterparts, conspiracy charges are often brought in state courts throughout California. Conspiracy charges give prosecutors certain advantages.
Charging a conspiracy gives prosecutors five main advantages.
First, proving an agreement is sometimes easier than proving the actual crime. It is also true that the government doesn’t need to prove a “formal” agreement–any “meeting of the minds” is enough.
Second, a conspiracy charge allows the government to charge the crimes committed by each alleged co-conspirator against all co-conspirators. This means that once someone joins a conspiracy he is liable for all the crimes committed by the co-conspirators, even those crimes that weren’t part of the main plan, as long as they were committed in the course and scope of the conspiracy. [California Jury Instruction CALCRIM 417.] However, a conspirator is only responsible for those acts done to further the conspiracy or that are a “natural and probable consequence” of the common plan. [CALCRIM 417.]
Third, when a conspiracy is charged, all statements made by each conspirator made in furtherance of the conspiracy are admissible at trial against all conspirators. [California Evidence Code section 1223.] The statements must have been made by one’s co-conspirators prior to or during one’s participation in the conspiracy, but not after one withdraws from the conspiracy.
Fourth, conspiracy charges permit the government to charge multiple defendants at one time under the conspiracy umbrella, regardless of their varying roles in the conspiracy. This also allows the government to use the “guilt by association” prejudice to convict lesser players in the conspiracy.
Fifth, conspiracy charges often span long periods of time such that the underlying crimes are too old to be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has expired. Thus criminal conduct that is too old to prosecute can nonetheless be used to help prove a conspiracy charge that isn’t barred by the statute of limitations.
There are certain limitations on when a co-conspirator’s statement can be admitted against his fellow conspirator. The government must have evidence independent to prove the conspiracy and one’s membership in the conspiracy before the co-conspirator’s statement can be admitted. [California Evidence Code section 1223.]
Also, a person is only liable for those crimes committed by his co-conspirators after he joins the conspiracy. Likewise a person is not liable for crimes committed by the co-conspirators after he withdraws from the conspiracy. [CALCRIM 419.]
To withdraw from a conspiracy, however, it is necessary for a conspirator, “by word or deed, to “truly and affirmatively reject the conspiracy and communicate that rejection” to the co-conspirators known to him. [CALCRIM 420.]
A conspirator is not responsible for the actions of his co-conspirators after the criminal goal of the conspiracy has been accomplished. [CALCRIM 417.]
If you or a loved one find yourself arrested, accused, or charged with a conspiracy charge, with or without other charges, you need a criminal law specialist on your side. Long Beach criminal attorney Matthew Kaestner has been a certified specialist in criminal law since 1999. He brings over 30 years of criminal law experience to the defense of every client. He can be reached directly at 562-437-0200.