What is conspiracy?
The California Penal Code defines the crime of conspiracy as two or more persons who conspire to commit any crime, together with proof of the commission of an overt act by one or more of the parties to the agreement. The overt act must be done in furtherance (in other words, in the direction) of the object or goal of the conspiracy. Conspiracy is criminalized by Penal Code Section 182. Conspiracy is charged as a separate offense and is a sentencing enhancement to the underlying crime (e.g., murder, robbery, fraud, etc.)
Is a co-conspirator responsible for the crimes of another co-conspirator?
Yes. A member of a conspiracy is criminally responsible for the crimes that he or she conspires to commit, no matter which member of the conspiracy commits the crime. For example, if Rick, James and Bob all agree to commit a bank robbery, with Rick agreeing to be the getaway driver, James agreeing to be the hold-up man, and Bob agreeing to be the look-out, Rick and Bob will be responsible for the deaths of any victims resulting from James’ actions inside the bank. Even if Rick and Bob may never have wished for the deaths of any bystanders, such as the bank customers, tellers or security guards, they are responsible for any of James’ actions that were reasonably foreseeable, which would include death or injury to bystanders.
However, if James withdrew from the conspiracy (i.e., by calling Bob and Rick to tell them he was not going to participate) before a substantial step of the crime was taken (i.e., before hooking up to do the job), James would not be guilty of an ensuing bank robbery.
But James would be guilty of any crimes already committed in furtherance of the robbery (for example, unauthorized use of a credit card to purchase the materials needed for the job, such as gun, ski mask, etc.).
What if the crime committed by a co-conspirator had nothing to do with the goal or objective of the conspiracy?
A co-conspirator is also criminally responsible for any action taken by any member of the conspiracy. However, that act must be done to further the conspiracy. The act must be a natural and probable consequence of the common plan or design of the conspiracy. This rule applies even if the act was not intended as part of the original plan.
For example, if Kevin, Arnold and Paul agree to package and sell exclusively marijuana and Paul deviates by hosting his own heroin house where his customers come to get a fix of heroin, and one of those customers, Wayne, dies as a result of a heroin overdose, Arnold and Kevin can successfully argue that selling and providing heroin, a hard narcotic, was not in furtherance of their conspiracy with Paul to sell marijuana and, therefore, that Wayne’s death was not the natural and probable consequence of their concerted efforts. However, Kevin, Arnold and Paul would be liable for possession for sales under California Penal Code 11359 (sale of marijuana). But Kevin and Arnold would arguably not be liable for possession for sales under California Health & Safety Code 11351 (Possession for Sale of a Controlled Substance), nor would they be liable for the death of Wayne.
We are experienced and compassionate Torrance criminal defense lawyers and will use any and all available defenses to protect you against a conviction. We have over 60 combined years of experience defending persons accused of conspiracy and other crimes.
Robert Ernenwein is a former Los Angeles deputy district attorney, so we know how the prosecution operates. We use that insight and knowledge to your advantage and will work diligently to achieve the best possible outcome on your case.