While the word “conspiracy” is routinely thrown around, especially as it pertains to various theories concerning certain events or circumstances of a controversial nature, there are two basic definitions associated with this term. One one hand, the word is defined as an agreement involving two or more persons intent on committing an illegal or harmful action at some point in the near future. On the other hand, the word refers to a theory the deviates from the accepted norm.
Conspiracy-related theories generally involve ideas deviating from the normal explanation of a certain event. A common example is the assassination of President Kennedy. In this case, it was concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole shooter. Conspiracy-related theories suggest that multiple gunmen were a part of the plot. Such “guesswork” isn’t against the law. In fact, it often provides a topic of conversation for like-minded individuals suggesting an alternate explanation.
Conspiring to Perform an Unlawful Act
Any individual who takes part in a conspiracy-related action is known as the conspirator. There is no legal limit when it comes to how many individuals may be involved in the plan beyond the two party minimum for the action to be defined as conspiratorial. A conspirator includes anyone involved with the plan at any point, including individuals who become a part of the intended action at a later point. Any agreement to participate in the plan can be implied, oral, or written. Even without any such agreement, any individuals facilitating or concealing the events leading up to the action may be held legally responsible for the consequences regardless of the success of the plot.
Implied Action vs. Actions Taken
In many countries, there is no requirement that any actions actually be taken towards the act in question. In cases where no action is taken, there is typically a legal requirement to show intent by the two or more parties involved with the plot. In today’s electronic age, this generally includes emails, text messages, and other such evidence showing a cohesive plan to take a collective, illegal action. Legally, the main conspirator may be charged even if co-conspirators cannot be located. This also applies for co-conspirators that have been acquitted or granted immunity for their participation in the prosecution of the main parties. Repentance of any of the parties does not legally affect liability. However, it may affect sentencing.
Legal Acts With Illegal Purposes
Not every conspiracy-related act involves illegal actions. For instance, a group of individuals may seek contributions for a legitimate charity. If, however, part of those funds are collected for private use by a select group of individuals in on the plot, that action is then considered a criminal offense. Conspiracy itself doesn’t usually carry any legal penalties. Some conspiracy-related statutes assign the same punishment for conspiring to take a certain harmful action as the intended action itself. It’s often the harmful action itself that carries substantial penalties. Even if the other parties involved in the action didn’t break any laws, some courts consider all involved parties responsible for the intended action. Conspiracy-related charges can be both criminal and civil. For instance, a person can conspire to commit murder (criminal charge) or conspire to commit fraud (civil charge).
Conception Through Completion
A conspiracy-related action starts with the intent of two or more individuals to commit some type of unlawful action, from initial conception through completion. All involved parties may face charges throughout any step of this process. The individual actions of each person conspiring to complete the action need not be a crime. However, civil or criminal charges may apply if the ultimate purpose was to break the law. For example, Alice, Bob, and Ted conspire to rob a bank. Andy visits the bank to access the security measures in place at the bank. All three individuals pool their money together to purchase a gun and some disguises. Bob writes the demand letter that will be handed to the teller. Ted carries the gun into the bank and points it at the teller during the robbery attempt. Before they can escape, all three parties are caught. In this case, all three individuals would be charged with conspiring to commit a robbery. The same charges would likely apply even if the attempt was aborted or one or more parties backed out.
Conspiracy, by nature, suggests a collaborative effort. This can be expressed as an alternative to an accepted truth that suggests certain individuals, usually those in positions of power or authority, are “conspiring” to keep the truth from getting out to the general public. While a theory suggesting some deviation from an accepted truth may be more entertaining, the most common form of conspiracy-related action is one that involves two or more people conspiring to commit an unlawful action.