A criminal conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to commit an illegal act, or to achieve a legal objective through illegal means, accompanied by an overt act in furtherance of the agreement. Generally, a conspiracy to commit a crime is an offense separate and distinct from the crime that is the object of the conspiracy. Conspiracy is punishable irrespective of whether its object fails, or if the crime has or has not been committed.
There is no limit on the number of individuals participating in the conspiracy, and no requirement that any steps have been taken to put the plan into effect. The guilty act for the offense of conspiracy is a continuing one, and all parties, who join the plot later on will also be charged with conspiracy and be jointly liable along with the co-conspirators. There is no requirement that the conspiracy needs to be planned in secret. Conspiracy law does not require proof of specific intent to injure any specific person. The law only requires the conspirators agree to engage in a certain illegal act.
Initially, the crime of conspiracy was just an agreement to engage in an unlawful act with the intent to carry out the act. However, federal statutes as well as several state statutes now require not only agreement and intent but also the commission of an overt act in furtherance of the agreement. Following are the elements required for a conspiracy to take place:
- there should be an agreement between two or more persons. The agreement must be made voluntarily and with intent to participate in furthering a common illegal purpose;
- the conspirators should have done the acts with a criminal intent. Both the parties must intend to and agree to engage in the unlawful act. Either the purpose of the agreement or the means by which it is accomplished must be illegal. One who provides services to conspirators will not be guilty of conspiracy if that person has not participated in the agreement and does not know that a conspiracy exists; and
- an overt act should have been committed. The overt act must follow the agreement and must be executed with intent to carry out the purpose of the conspiracy.
When measures are taken to conceal evidence of the crime, the act also amounts to conspiracy. A person who did not participate in the original agreement can become a coconspirator after the actual criminal act if the person joins in the concealment of the conspiracy.