What is Conspiracy?

While rarely charged in state court, the crime of Conspiracy is found regularly on federal indictments. A conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit an illegal act, and the demonstrated intent to achieve the act. The ‘demonstrated intent’ is sometimes referred to as an “overt act;” which means an action someone involved with the agreement makes to reach the goal of the conspiracy. In general, to establish a conspiracy to commit a crime, the Government must prove:

  • 1.
    That a conspiracy existed;
  • 2.
    That the defendant knew of the conspiracy;
  • 3.
    That the defendant knowingly became part of the conspiracy; and
  • 4.
    At least one person who joined the agreement took some act for the purpose of carrying out or forward the agreement.

How does the Government prove that the defendant “knowingly became part” of the agreement to commit crimes, especially if the person is far removed from the original parties to the agreement? And what is an “overt act”?

The current federal law in the Eighth Circuit, which includes the District of Minnesota, says that even a discussion about how to achieve the purpose of the agreement can be an “overt act” in furtherance of the agreement, even if there was no further action taken. Under this interpretation, a lot of innocent behavior could be considered criminal. The Court of Appeals has ruled that “once a conspiracy has been established, only slight evidence is needed to link a defendant to the conspiracy.” United States v. Pena, 67 F3d 153, 155 (8th Cir. 1995).

Here are some examples of conspiracies:

A guy named Vincent...


A woman named Susan...


A guy named Vincent got arrested for possessing ammunition illegally. He found out that there were two witnesses that were going to testify against him. While in jail, he called his brother Karl and they talked about murdering the witnesses on the recorded line. Karl said that he “had an enforcer” and Vincent described where and when to find the witnesses. Both brothers were indicted and convicted for conspiracy to tamper with witnesses, using their recorded conversations against them in trial. The “overt act” was the discussion itself of the crime including all of the details regarding the witness addresses. This is the case of United States v. Bertling, 510 F.3d 804 (8th Cir. 2007).

A woman named Susan was convicted of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine with a guy named James. James ran a bunch of meth labs, and had prior convictions for possession of the drug. Susan was indicted after she was observed by law enforcement buying chemicals related to meth manufacturing and delivering them to James at one of his manufacturing locations. The Court said that she knew about the conspiracy and became part of it when she agreed to bring chemicals to the lab site. This is the case of United States v. Davidson, 195 F.3d 402 (8th Cir. 1999).

While every case is different, the Government’s burden remains the same: to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the conspiracy. It’s not always as easy as hearing it on a recorded line.

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Catherine is an experienced criminal defense lawyer that defends against charges of Conspiracy. If you or a loved one have been accused of Conspiracy, she can help. Call today for a free consultation.