Conspiracy is a crime whereby at least two individuals agree to engage in some sort of criminal act together. Conspiracy can either be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending mainly on the actual crime that was committed, or what they conspired to commit. In most states, including Massachusetts, defendants can be charged with the crime that they commit, as well as face a charge for the conspiracy that led up to the crime.
Laws and Penalties
The law covering conspiracy charges in Massachusetts is Part IV, Title I, Chapter 274, Section 7. This indicates that conspiracy is a inchoate type of crime, which means that the act is illegal because it revolves around preparing another criminal act. Hence, even if the crime doesn’t happen, because it is foiled, cancelled or failed, the crime of conspiracy still stands.
There are three specific types of inchoate crimes and they have significant differences. They are:
- Conspiracy, whereby more than one person agrees to arrange and carry out some sort of illegal act.
- Attempt, whereby at least one person tries to commit a crime, but it is not completed.
- Solicitation, whereby at least one person tries to coerce a third party to join in a criminal activity.
The actual crime of conspiracy looks at how the defendants placed themselves in a position in which they could commit a crime, or even at the fact that they are considering committing a crime. The main difference between conspiracy and the other two types of inchoate crimes is that it involves more than one individual before the actual criminal activity happens. That is the main way to distinguish between the three types of inchoate crimes.
In Massachusetts, the laws around conspiracy mainly look at trying to set a precedent that a certain case has to meet if it is to satisfy a conspiracy charge. One such precedent is that two people have to agree to enter into a criminal activity together. Additionally, that activity must include a criminal intent. Within the overview of the intent of the law, what matters is that the sentence that is handed down for the conspiracy crime is fully consistent with the level of sentence that is handed down for the actual crime that is committed.
When it comes to sentencing the crime of conspiracy, the Massachusetts Legislature is quite strict and clear. The main factor is based on how severe the crime that the different individuals had planned. Some specific crimes have standard sentencing guidelines in terms of the conspiracy to commit them:
- A felony that leads to life imprisonment or a death sentence leads to less than 20 years in a state prison, as well as a fine of less than $10,000.
- A felony that leads to a sentence of more than 10 years leads to less than eight years in a state prison, as well as a fine of less than $10,000.
- A felony that leads to a sentence of less than 10 years will lead to a sentence of no more than five years in prison, as well as a fine of less than $5,000.
- All other charges lead to a jail sentence of less than two and a half years, as well as a fine of less than $2,000.
These sentences can include either the prison/jail sentence or the fine, or a judge can choose both. In general, these sentences are added to whatever sentence the defendant receives for the crime that was committed.
The Massachusetts’ penal code sets out acceptable defenses in a conspiracy charge. Furthermore, it lists a number of defenses that are barred.
In general, however, defense attorneys will opt for a defensive strategy. Usually, they will attempt to prove that there was no agreement to commit a certain crime. Proving that at least two people were involved is a prerequisite for a conspiracy conviction. If, for instance, the other party was an undercover officer pretending to agree, an attorney will argue that there was never actually a real agreement in place.
It is also common for the defense to hope that co-conspirators fall out. If every person in a case of conspiracy are found not guilty or are acquitted, then the remaining defendant must also be acquitted.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations on conspiracy charges is covered by 18 USC 3282. This means that it is a non-capital offense and that charges must be made within 60 months of the alleged offense. However, if the conspiracy involved committing a capital offense, such as kidnapping or murder, the statute may be different, even if the conspiracy wasn’t actually successful. The statute can also be tolled if the defendant is out of state for a period of time.
- A U.S. Marine was convicted of conspiracy in 2013. He allegedly accepted $150,000 from various military contractors while he was serving in Iraq in order to defraud the United States.
- Members of hactivist group ‘Anonymous’ were indicted in October 2013 for ‘worldwide conspiracy’ in relation to cyber attacks that were launched against government organizations and companies who refused to process WikiLeaks donations.
- Douglas Parigian avoided a prison sentence after conspiracy and securities fraud charges.
- Don Blankenship, who has been convicted on conspiracy charges for the 2010 Upper Big Branch that lead to the death of 29 people, is trying to have evidence thrown out of court.