Criminal conspiracy is one of the common charges we see in many Philadelphia criminal defense cases. Most do not understand how individuals are convicted of criminal conspiracy. Due to many television shows and movies, people often think when defendants conspire to commit a crime, they are sitting in a dark room planning and scheming on how to commit crimes such as robbery and murder. In real life, that is often not the case. Conspirators do not have to explicitly say they are going to commit a crime in order to be charged.
We will discuss examples of this in a later blog.
Pennsylvania Statutes Title 18 Section 903(a) defines criminal conspiracy as the following:
A person is guilty of conspiracy with another person or persons to commit a crime if with the intent of promoting or facilitating its commission he:
(1) agrees with such other person or persons that they or one or more of them will engage in conduct which constitutes such crime or an attempt or solicitation to commit such crime; or
(2) agrees to aid such other person or persons in the planning or commission of such crime or of an attempt or solicitation to commit such crime.
Therefore, under PA criminal laws, in order to be charged with conspiracy, a person has to agree with one or more persons that one or more of them will commit a crime, or the person agrees to help or aid one or more persons in planning or committing a crime.
In addition, Title 18 Section 903(e) provides,
Overt act.–No person may be convicted of conspiracy to commit a crime unless an overt act in pursuance of such conspiracy is alleged and proved to have been done by him or by a person with whom he conspired.
This means that in order for individuals to be committed of a conspiracy crime, there also must be an overt act in furtherance of the crime, such as buying a gun that will be used in a robbery.
What people may not understand is that if the underlying crime was only committed by one person, all other conspirators face the same penalties of the crime even though they did not commit the crime themselves. Just because the person did not commit the actual crime does not mean that person will face a lessor penalty than the person that committed the crime.
Below are three examples of how this works.
Conspiracy to Commit a Robbery
Four individuals (A, B, C & D) decide to rob a bank. The plan was for A and B to go inside the bank and get the money from the tellers. C was to stand outside the bank as a lookout. Finally, D was to stay in a car and be ready to get A, B and C after the robbery.
The robbery was successful, but the individuals were later arrested. All of them are charged with conspiracy to commit a robbery even though C and D were not physically inside the bank. They will all face the same penalty.
Conspiracy to Commit a Robbery and Aggravated Assault
Using the same above hypothetical, and let’s add the following: A and B pull their guns on different tellers demanding them to put money in the bag. Unbeknownst to A and B, there is an off-duty police officer inside the bank during the robbery. The police officer tries to knock A down which results in a struggle between them. During the struggle, A’s gun accidentally fires, and the police officer is shot in the stomach.
The police arrive on the scene before A, B, C and D can get away. All are arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit a robbery and aggravated assault. Even though B, C and D did not shoot the security guard, if A is convicted of aggravated assault, B, C, and D will also be convicted of the same crime, as well as conspiracy.
Conspiracy to Commit a Robbery and Murder
Let’s add another assumption to the above example. If the police officer later dies as a result of the gun-shot wound, then A will now face a felony murder charge. Again, if A is convicted, B, C and D may also be convicted even though B, C and D did not have any intention of hurting anyone during the robbery.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this article, in which we will discuss defenses to conspiracy charges.
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