Members of the Mexican Cartel, Aryan Brotherhood, Outlaws Motorcycle Club, and locally in Columbus, Ohio, the Short North Posse (SNP) all have two things in common-they all have been targets of criminal investigations and eventually convicted of the crime of conspiracy, resulting in lengthy prison sentences. But what exactly is a “criminal conspiracy” and what does it mean to become a member?
The offense of conspiracy is deceivingly simple. Every conspiracy at its essence has only three elements: 1) an agreement; 2) between two or more persons; and 3) to commit a criminal act. Conspiracies can involve a wide range of offenses, including the following: all forms of drug dealing, insider trading and securities fraud, bank and mortgage fraud, tax fraud, Hobbs Act robbery, human trafficking, murder-for-hire, and computer fraud.
Conspiracy offenses are charged frequently in Federal Court but rarely in State Court. Under Ohio Law, most conspiracy charges result from murder-for-hire plots. This type of offense occurs when a husband hires a “hit-man” to kill his wife or when gang members conspire to kill a witness who might testify against them.
In Federal Court, the most common type of conspiracy is one involving drugs charged under 21 U.S.C. 846 and 21 U.S.C. 841. But as noted above, conspiracies can include crimes of violence involving gang members or white-collar offenses involving multi-millionaires.
To fully understand the complexities of this crime, the elements of a crime require further explanation.
To participate in a conspiracy is to join an “agreement” not a group. The crime of conspiracy is completed when the agreement is made not when the crime is committed. The agreement is made between “co-conspirators”. In fact, a group of individuals can be charged and convicted of conspiracy even if the underlying crime was not committed. For example, a person can be convicted of conspiracy to commit murder even if the intended victim was unharmed.
Some statutes require that before a person is charged with conspiracy, a “substantial overt act” must have been committed. A substantial overt act is defined as an act that shows a purpose on the part of the actor that the object of the conspiracy should be completed. For example, let’s say that four friends agree to commit an armed robbery of a bank similar to Ben Affleck’s gang in the movie “Town.” The conspiracy, in theory, occurs when the agreement is reached. But many Prosecutors will not seek an indictment in this type of case without first having evidence that overt acts were committed by one or more of the coconspirators. These acts could be purchasing weapons for the robbery, photographing and studying the bank’s security system to disarm it during the robbery, or acquiring masks to conceal the robber’s identity during the offense.
Conspiracy charges are very serious offenses. Often times the investigation of these offenses can take years to complete and are conducted by special task forces that combine State and Federal Law agencies. These agents are well-trained and experienced in investigating complex criminal cases. They have at their disposal sophisticated technology to track vehicles, cell-phones, and the ability to intercept conversations and contraband. G.P.S. systems can also be placed surreptitiously on vehicles allowing agents to monitor the movements of many coconspirators simultaneously. In addition, the agents have tremendous patience and work directly with prosecutors who will not file charges until they believe the evidence is overwhelming. If you believe that law enforcement has targeted you as a participant in criminal conspiracy then you need to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer right away.
W. Joseph Edwards has over 30 years of experience as a criminal defense attorney. A strong defense is your best chance at a good result. Call W. Joseph Edwards for a free initial consultation at 614.309.0243. Available 24/7.