How Do Prosecutors Prove a Conspiracy Allegation?

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingJul 01, 2022

Conspiring with other people to commit a crime is a serious offense in California under Penal Code 182 PC. If you are convicted of criminal conspiracy, you face the same legal penalties as if you had committed the crime, even if it was not completed.

How Do Prosecutors Prove a Conspiracy Allegation?

 A conspiracy is defined as an agreement with one or more people to commit a crime, and then you or the co-conspirator take a direct step to further the agreement.

Penal Code 182 PC conspiracy says: “If two or more persons conspire to commit any crime.” Readers should note there are numerous subsections within this statute that describe various unlawful acts, including “falsely and maliciously to indict someone for any crime or to procure another person to be charged or arrested for any crime.”

Further, this law also states “to cheat and defraud someone of property, by means which are criminal or to obtain money or property by false pretenses or promises with fraudulent intent.”

Conspiracy is a “wobbler” that can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the details of the case and the defendant's criminal history. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will look closely at the law below.

What is a Conspiracy?

As noted, a Penal Code 182 PC criminal conspiracy is an agreement or plan between two or more people to commit an illegal act that must be followed by at least one overt act to further the plan. This means to convict you of a criminal conspiracy; the prosecutor must prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that you:

  • knowingly agreed to participate or assist in a planned crime; and
  • somebody that was part of the conspiracy took some direct action toward carrying out the crime, called an “overt act.”

Thus, you can be charged with conspiracy even if you only participated in the plan but didn't take any action yourself. An “overt act” is something done to help accomplish or advance the agreed-upon crime, such as purchasing a weapon to commit the crime.

What Are the Related Offenses?

  • Aiding and Abetting under Penal Code 31 PC is assisting someone in the commission of a crime;
  • Accessory After the Fact under Penal Code 32 PC is willfully hiding, concealing, or assisting a felon to avoid being arrested, tried, convicted, or sentenced for a crime;
  • Attempted Crime under Penal Code 664 PC attempts to commit a crime, regardless of whether it was successfully carried out;
  • Gang Sentencing Enhancement under Penal Code 186.22 PC can be charged againstanyone who commits a felony crime for the benefit of a street gang.

Why Do Prosecutors Charge Someone with Conspiracy?

Conspiracy is an interesting allegation because it's a little confusing for most people who don't know much about criminal defense. 

First off, there's no such crime as just a straight conspiracy.  It's a conspiracy to do something – conspiracy to commit murder – conspiracy to move drugs – whatever the case may be.

Why Do Prosecutors Charge Someone with Conspiracy?

So, conspiracy is more of an allegation that prosecutors use to capture more than one person regarding a criminal offense.  For example, let's say three people get together and decide to do a drug operation:

  • one person makes the drugs,
  • another person moves the drugs, and
  • the other person sells the drugs.

Now, the person who makes the drugs isn't selling anything, so how could they be convicted of selling?  And, if you think about each role, the prosecutors might have a problem proving someone's involved with selling drugs or possessing drugs to sell drugs, depending on the circumstances of any given scenario.

But in my scenario, everybody would be guilty of trafficking narcotics because they engaged in a conspiracy.  The three people all agreed they were going to move the drugs that were being made, and they were going to sell them, make a profit, and make money.  So, that's where that conspiracy theory comes in to capture people who are part of a group conspiring to do illegal activity.

What is Foreseeability?

When people conspire to do illegal things, they're much more dangerous than someone who conspires alone.  Where we start to get into problems with conspiracy is, what if you weren't even part of the group. 

What if you didn't know the group's ultimate objective?  Then you have to start talking about foreseeability.  In other words, was it foreseeable if you got involved with this person that this person was also involved with these other people doing X, Y, and Z?

Why Do You Need a Criminal Lawyer for a Conspiracy Charge?

And if that was foreseeable to you, and you agreed to get involved with it, you knew of the unlawful purpose. You were a participant in that agreement; you're not going to be able to dodge out of responsibility because it was foreseeable under your case that that was going to happen. You're responsible for the result.

There are all kinds of cases that I've handled over the 30 years of practicing criminal defense where the prosecutors try to take the conspiracy allegation too far. 

They try to ram through too broad of a net out to catch too many people that don't know anything about other participants of the conspiracy, and there are all kinds of cases that courts have come down related to exactly how far the conspiracy law is going to be taken and what type of people can be captured. 

And it's not just relevant for drug offenses.  It can be relevant for all types of crimes.  When two or more people get together and conspire to commit a criminal offense, everybody's in on it, everybody knows what the objectives are, and those two people are going to be responsible.  If it's more people, everybody is going to be responsible.

Why Do You Need a Criminal Lawyer?

Once you start getting into some people where the original conspiracy group begins to talk to other people and get other people doing certain things, that going to start to be able to limit exposure to those other people if they don't know what's going on, they don't know the participants, they don't know the objective, and they're just part of a minor, isolated part of the overall conspiracy.

This is where you've got to have an attorney.  So, if you or a loved one is charged with an offense and there's a conspiracy allegation, you've come to the right place.  I've been practicing this type of law now for 30 years.  First, I worked for the prosecutors, then a judge, and then for people like you since the early 1990s.

Perhaps there was a lack of agreement. Maybe we can argue that you either were not part of the planning or did not agree to commit the crime. For instance, you are not guilty of conspiracy if you were present when plans were made but did not participate in the planning unless you helped carry out the project.

If you need the best, pick up the phone now and make the call to speak to Ron Hedding. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, California, and we offer a free case review by phone or use the contact form.