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Defenses Against Conspiracy Charges

Jul 26, 2017 by Mike McKneely in Criminal Defense

Conspiracy is one of the few offenses you can get charged with when, in a sense, you haven’t actually committed a crime. Even if no one gets hurt, no drugs get sold, or no property gets damaged, you can still face criminal penalties if the authorities have evidence that you conspired with others to commit a crime. In fact, you can get charged with conspiracy for attempting to commit just about any crime, although prosecutors tend to mainly focus on felonies.

Common charges include:

  • Conspiracy to commit a murder
  • Conspiracy to distribute drugs
  • Conspiracy to commit theft
  • Conspiracy to produce or distribute child pornography

No matter the type of conspiracy charge you face, you will need a dedicated and experienced legal defense team by your side. Conspiracy cases are complex, and the penalties stemming from a conviction can be devastating. But you may be able to avoid these penalties by exercising your right to remain silent and enlisting the help of a Fresno conspiracy attorney immediately.

Call Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer today at (559) 443-7442 for a free consultation about what defense strategies may be open to you.

How Does the Law Define Conspiracy?

Conspiracy may be charged at either the federal or the state level. Federal and California law have similar definitions of conspiracy, but at the federal level, your trial can be more costly, and the possible penalties more severe.

There are dozens of federal anti-conspiracy statutes. The primary one, 18 U.S. Code section 371, defines conspiracy as two or more people working together to break one of the laws of the United States, or to defraud the government. One of the conspirators (it doesn’t have to be you) must take at least one concrete action towards completing the crime. The maximum penalty for violating this statute is five years in federal prison. Drug trafficking, terrorism, and racketeering, however, have their own conspiracy statutes that involve much harsher penalties.

In California, conspiracy is defined at section 182 of the Penal Code. This statute makes it illegal for two or more people to conspire to:

  • Commit any crime
  • Frame someone else for a crime
  • Falsely sue someone
  • Defraud or cheat someone out of their property
  • Commit any act that threatens public health, public morals, the rule of law, or the administration of justice
  • Commit any crime against the president, vice president, a governor, a federal judge, or the secretary of any department of the executive branch of government.

The penalty for conspiring to commit a crime is the same as the penalty you would receive for actually committing the crime. For example, a conviction for conspiring to murder someone will be the same as for killing another person: life in prison or a death sentence. Otherwise, the penalty for conspiracy in California is one year in county jail and fines of up to $25,000, unless you’ve conspired against government officials, in which case the penalty is five to nine years in prison.

Conspiracy is charged as a separate crime from the one you allegedly conspired to commit. This means that you can get convicted of conspiracy whether you got acquitted or convicted of the underlying crime. For example, if you get acquitted of a robbery charge, you and your alleged accomplices may still get convicted of conspiracy for planning to commit that very same robbery. The issue, in this case, would be whether you or your alleged accomplices took some concrete action towards committing the robbery. Whether or not the robbery happened is a moot point.

How Can My Fresno Criminal Defense Attorney Fight my Conspiracy Charges?

Every conspiracy case will have its own unique set of facts that will determine the best defense strategy. Depending on the circumstances of your case, your Fresno conspiracy attorney may be able to argue one or more of the following:

  • Lack of evidence of agreement with co-conspirator–If the prosecutor cannot show beyond a reasonable doubt that you and at least one other person had an agreement to commit a crime, you will likely avoid a conviction. It’s very difficult for prosecutors to prove this aspect of a conspiracy case, unless you or one of your alleged partners talks to the investigators or is monitored on a wiretap.
  • There was no act in furtherance of the conspiracy–One of the central issues in all conspiracy cases is whether you or a co-conspirator did something to make the crime actually happen. For instance, in a burglary conspiracy case, the prosecutor would need to show that you or your accomplice staked out a target home, researched how to defeat alarm systems, or accomplished any other act towards completing the burglary. In your case, there may be room to argue that the alleged act in furtherance was innocent, or that the evidence does not prove that it occurred at all.
  • You withdrew from the conspiracy–If you backed out of the planned crime in time, you can avoid a conviction for conspiracy. But there must be evidence that your withdrawal took place before the crime was committed, and that you clearly communicated your withdrawal to all the other co-conspirators. A mere failure to participate in the criminal act is not a defense to a conspiracy charge.
  • Mistake of law–If there is evidence that you legitimately and reasonably believed that the plans you and your partners were making were legal, then you may avoid a conviction. This defense is only usable when the conspiracy relates to an obscure crime, however.

When you’re facing criminal charges, it can feel like your back is against the wall. The prosecutor will pressure you to plead guilty, telling you it’s your best possible outcome. But this is not usually the case. Under no circumstances should you plead guilty to a crime before meeting with a skilled Fresno criminal defense attorney who can clearly explain how a guilty plea will affect your interests. At Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer, we are dedicated to ensuring that you obtain the best outcome possible under your circumstances.

Call us today at (559) 443-7442 for a free consultation about your case.

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