Conspiracy is a common offense in Clark County, Nevada. If you have been charged with conspiracy, you likely have questions.
WHAT IS CONSPIRACY?
A conspiracy is when two or more people agree to commit a crime. So if two people agree that they will rob a bank, they have committed the crime of conspiracy to commit robbery, even if they never rob the bank. The agreement itself is the crime.
In some states, an "overt act" that furthers the conspiracy is required before a person is guilty of conspiracy. Some examples of "overt acts" in furtherance of conspiracies might be "casing" a house for a planned burglary, buying ski masks to use in a bank robbery, or stalking a victim for a planned murder. However, in Nevada, no overt act is required to prove conspiracy. Thus, in Nevada, you can be convicted of conspiracy by agreeing with another person to commit a crime, even if no further steps are taken.
In reality, though, most conspiracies are proven circumstantially, when two or more people act together to commit a crime. In other words, the prosecutor won't have any evidence that two people sat down and discussed the pros and cons of committing a crime and then made a decision to commit that crime. Rather, to prove a conspiracy, the prosecution must prove that the defendants' conduct shows, beyond a reasonable doubt, that they were working together to commit a crime. For instance, if two people enter a Wal-Mart together, both conceal merchandise, and walk out of the store at the same time, they will likely be charged, if they are caught, with both burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary. These are two separate charges.
WHAT IS THE PENALTY FOR A CONSPIRACY CONVICTION?
The penalty for a conspiracy conviction varies widely because it depends upon the underlying crime. Racketeering, an organized crime conspiracy, is punishable by 5 to 20 years in Nevada state prison. Conspiracy to commit murder is punishable by 2 to 10 years in Nevada state prison. Conspiracy to commit robbery, sexual assault, kidnapping, or arson is punishable by 1 to 6 years in Nevada state prison. Conspiracy to violate the Uniform Controlled Substance Act is punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison for a first offense, 2 to ten years for a second offense, and 3 to 15 years for a third offense. Conspiracy to commit any other crime, such as burglary, is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in the Clark County Detention Center.
WHAT IS CO-CONSPIRATOR LIABILITY?
Co-conspirator liability is a legal doctrine that many of my clients are unaware of, and something that can create serious exposure to criminal liability. Co-conspirator liability is a theory of criminal liability that allows the district attorney to charge a defendant with all criminal acts committed by his co-conspirators, even if the defendant did not commit those acts himself. For instance, if three people decide to rob a bank, and two individuals go into the bank while the third drives the getaway car, the getaway driver is criminally liable for not just conspiracy to commit robbery, but the robbery itself, as well as any other crime committed by the other co-conspirators while they were in the bank, so long as those crimes were not unforeseeable. So if one of the co-conspirators shoots and kills a bank teller, the getaway driver could be charged with murder under co-conspirator liability theory. Therefore, it is important to understand "conspiracy" not just as a crime, but as a separate legal theory that the prosecutor can use to charge and convict you of a crime.
WHAT ARE DEFENSES TO CONSPIRACY CHARGES?
I mentioned above that in almost every case, conspiracies must be proven circumstantially. That is, the prosecutor has to prove that a conspiracy existed through the conduct of the individuals accused. Sometimes, it is not so clear that any actual "agreement" has been reached between two or more parties. For instance, sometimes individuals on the Las Vegas strip are charged with conspiracy and possession of controlled substance with intent to sell simply for standing next to and talking to someone who is selling drugs. In this case, the accused may have a "mere presence" defense. What this means is that a person is not criminally liable for simply being present while another person commits a crime.
If you have been charged with conspiracy to commit a crime in Las Vegas or elsewhere in Clark County, contact me now to discuss the particulars of your case.
By Michael Pandullo