Conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit an illegal act. A conviction carries a sentence of up to 20 years in state prison, but the maximum penalty is based on the seriousness of the underlying crime.
In Massachusetts, to prove a conspiracy, the prosecutor must establish:
- The defendant and at least one other person entered into an agreement;
- The agreement involved doing something that is illegal; and
- The defendant intentionally joined the conspiracy with the knowledge of the illegal plan and the intention to assist in executing the plan.
Knowledge alone is not sufficient to prove conspiracy. The defendant must intend to participate in the illegal conduct.
Massachusetts conspiracy statute
The Massachusetts conspiracy statute is particularly dangerous for defendants for two reasons.
- First, the crime is completed as soon as the defendants enter into the agreement. In some jurisdictions, the prosecution must prove that at least one of the defendants committed an overt act (some concrete step) in furtherance of the conspiracy’s goal. But in Massachusetts, there is no requirement that any of the defendants did anything other than agree to break a law.
- Second, Massachusetts does not recognize the defense of renunciation. Defendants charged with conspiracy in some other states are permitted to argue that while they initially entered into a conspiracy, they later completely and voluntarily abandoned their desire to participate in the conspiracy (prior to its execution). If the jury believes a defendant renounced his intent to participate in the conspiracy, he will be found not guilty. Some states require a defendant asserting a renunciation defense to prove he attempted to thwart the conspiracy after withdrawing from it. Massachusetts is a state that does not recognize the renunciation defense at all.
Joint Venture Theory
The police often charge conspiracy anytime defendants are charged with an underlying crime under a joint venture theory. For example, suppose two defendants agree to rob a bank. One defendant enters to the bank and confronts the teller while the other defendant stays outside and acts as a lookout. Both defendants can be charged with robbery under a joint venture theory, and both defendants can be charged with conspiracy for agreeing to rob the bank.
- Severing of Charges – Defendants who are charged with an underlying crime (robbery) and conspiracy have the option of either trying the two charges together (in front of the same jury) or asking the judge to sever the charges (which means one jury will consider the robbery charge and a second jury will consider the conspiracy charge). Defendants who choose to have the two charges decided by the same jury take a risk that the jury will return a compromise verdict by finding the defendant not guilty of the underlying crime but guilty of conspiracy. On the other hand, defendants who choose to sever the charges give the Commonwealth two opportunities (with two different juries) to win a conviction.
- In a trial where co-defendants are charged with conspiracy, the jury cannot acquit one defendant and convict the other. However, if the defendants are tried separately and two juries reach different verdicts, then the inconsistent verdicts are permitted to stand.
- In Massachusetts, a defendant can be charged with criminal conspiracy even if the underlying illegal conduct is not criminal. For example, a defendant can be charged with criminal conspiracy if he agreed with another person to violate non-criminal securities laws.
Conspiracy can be one of the easier crimes for a prosecutor to prove. If you are charged with conspiracy, you should consult with a criminal defense attorney immediately. Call Attorney Chris Spring to schedule a free consultation.