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What is a Criminal Conspiracy?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Mar 16, 2022

California's Criminal Conspiracy Laws – Penal Code 182 PC

In California, conspiring with others to commit a crime is a serious offense in itself. So serious, in fact, that if you are convicted of criminal conspiracy under Penal Code 182 PC, you could be facing the same penalties as if you had committed the crime—whether or not you carried it out.

A “conspiracy” is described as when you agree with one or more other people to commit a crime, and either you or they commit an act to further the agreement.

Criminal Conspiracy Laws – Penal Code 182 PC
A PC 182 conspiracy requires and agreement to commit a crime and an overt act to carry it out.

The legal definition of Penal Code 182 PC conspiracy says: “If two or more persons conspire to commit any crime.” There are several subsections within the law describing various unlawful acts.

These include “falsely and maliciously to indict another for any crime or to procure someone else to be charged or arrested for any crime.”  The statute also says “to cheat and defraud anyone of property, by means which are in themselves criminal or to obtain money or property by false pretenses or promises with fraudulent intent not to perform those promises.”

PC 182 conspiracy is a “wobbler” in California. That means the prosecution has the discretion to file the case as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant's criminal history. In this article by our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers, we will review this law in more detail below.

What is the Definition of a Conspiracy?

As noted, under Penal Code 182 PC, criminal conspiracy is defined as an agreement or plan between two or more people to commit a criminal act, followed by at least one overt act in the furtherance of that plan. To convict you of criminal conspiracy, prosecutors must demonstrate that:

  • you knowingly agreed to participate or assist in the planned crime; and
  • someone who was part of the agreement took some action toward carrying out the crime, known as an “overt act.”

In other words, you could be charged with criminal conspiracy even if you only participated in the plan but did not take any action yourself, as long as someone else did. On the other hand, you can't be convicted of criminal conspiracy if you only planned the crime with someone, but no one acted on it.

Additionally, the action taken to further the conspiracy does not need to be a crime; it only needs to be an action that begins to put the plan in motion. An “overt act” is done to help accomplish or advance the agreed-upon crime. This act has to be performed, such as buying a weapon for someone else to commit the offense.

What Are Some Examples?

  • A woman and her boyfriend make plans to kill her ex-husband, and the boyfriend buys a gun. (Conspiracy to murder)
  • Two computer hackers concoct an online scam, and one of them sets up a fake website to lure their victims. (Conspiracy to commit wire fraud)
  • Four people decide to rob a bank, and one of them arranges for a getaway car. (Conspiracy to commit robbery)

What Are the Penalties for a PC 182 Conviction?

As noted, criminal conspiracy may be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending mainly on the crime you allegedly conspired to commit:

The penalties for conspiring to commit a felony are typically the same as those for the planned crime. So, for example, if you are convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, you face the same potential penalties as someone who committed murder.

If you are convicted of conspiring to commit multiple felonies, the maximum penalty will match the most severe crime. Conspiring to commit a misdemeanor is a "wobbler" offense—meaning you may be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony.

In this instance, you could theoretically face more severe penalties for conspiring to commit the crime than if you had committed it.

What Are the Related Crimes?

In many cases, you could be charged with other California crimes in addition to, or instead of, criminal conspiracy. These include:

  • Aiding and Abetting (Penal Code 31 PC): assisting someone in the commission of a crime. You could face this charge if you helped someone in the "overt act" of conspiracy, for example, even if you didn't participate in the planning of it.
  • Accessory After the Fact (Penal Code 32 PC): willfully hiding, concealing, or assisting a felon in avoiding being arrested, tried, convicted, or sentenced for a crime committed. If you weren't part of the planning and execution of a crime, but you harbored the criminals after the crime was committed, you could still be charged as an accessory.
  • Attempted Crime (Penal Code 664 PC): attempting to commit a crime, regardless of success. If you conspired to commit a crime but failed in your attempt to carry it out, you could face additional charges for the criminal effort.
  • Gang Sentencing Enhancement (Penal Code 186.22 PC): anyone who commits a felony crime for the benefit of a street gang will receive a mandatory prison sentence in addition to the penalty for the underlying offense.

How Can I Fight Criminal Conspiracy Charges?

The prosecution must effectively prove two parts of a conspiracy: planning the crime and the overt act to further the plan. Thus, the most common defense strategies to fight criminal conspiracy charges will attempt to refute one or both of these factors. Common defenses for Penal Code 182 PC conspiracy charges are listed below.

Defenses for Penal Code 182 PC Conspiracy
There are several strategies we can us to fight Penal Code 182 PC conspiracy allegations.

Lack of agreement. You either were not part of the planning of the crime, or you did not agree to commit it. For example, you are not guilty of conspiracy if you were in the room when the plans were made but were not part of the planning. However, if you helped carry out the plan, you could be charged and convicted of aiding and abetting. 

No overt act occurred. If you plotted with someone to commit a crime, but no one took steps toward carrying it out, you are not guilty of conspiracy. Recall from the elements of the crime of a conspiracy that someone must commit an overt act for there to be a crime. Planning to commit a crime is not sufficient for a conviction as there must be some activity.

You withdrew from the agreement. You are not guilty of conspiracy if you had a change of heart after agreeing to the crime and withdrew before the overt act occurred. You must communicate the withdrawal before somebody commits an overt act.

Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles County, and we serve people across Southern California. You can contact our law firm for an initial case review by calling (310) 328-3776 or filling out our online contact form.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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