Thursday, August 21, 2008

Conspiracy in the United States

Conspiracy has been defined in the US as an agreement of two or more people to commit a crime, or to accomplish a legal end through illegal actions. For example, planning to rob a bank (an illegal act) in order to raise money for charity (a legal end) remains a criminal conspiracy because the parties agreed to use illegal means to accomplish the end goal. A conspiracy does not need to have been planned in secret in order to meet the definition of the crime. One legal dictionary,, provides this useful example on the application of conspiracy law to an everyday sales transaction tainted by corruption. It shows how the law can handle both the criminal and the civil need for justice.

[A] scheme by a group of salesmen to sell used automobiles as new, could be prosecuted as a crime of fraud and conspiracy, and also allow a purchaser of an auto to sue for damages [in civil court] for the fraud and conspiracy.

Conspiracy law usually does not require proof of the specific intent by the defendants to injure any specific person in order to establish an illegal agreement. Instead, usually the law only requires the conspirators have agreed to engage in a certain illegal act. This is sometimes described as a "general intent" to violate the law.

In United States v. Shabani, 513 U.S. 10 (1994) the United States Supreme Court ruled: U.S. Congress intended to adopt the common law definition of conspiracy, which does not make the doing of any act other than the act of conspiring a condition of liability" at least in so far as to establish a violation of a narcotics conspiracy under 21 U.S.C. § 846. Therefore, the Government need not prove the commission of any overt acts in furtherance of those narcotics conspiracies prohibited by 21 U.S.C. § 846. The Shabani case illustrates that it is a matter of legislative prerogative whether to require an overt step, or not to require an overt step in any conspiracy statute. The court compares the need to prove an overt step to be criminally liable under the conspiracy provision of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, while there is no such requirement under 21 U.S.C. § 846.

The Supreme Court pointed out that common law did not require proof of an overt step, and the need to prove it for a federal conspiracy conviction requires Congress to specifically require proof of an overt step to accomplish the conspiracy. It is a legislative choice on a statute by statute basis.

The conspirators can be guilty even if they do not know the identity of the other members of the conspiracy. See United States v. Monroe, 73 F.3d 129 (7th Cir. 1995), aff'd., 124 F.3d 206 (7th Cir. 1997).

California criminal law is somewhat representative of other jurisdictions. A punishable conspiracy exists when at least two people form an agreement to commit a crime, and at least one of them does some act in furtherance to committing the crime. Each person is punishable in the same manner and to the same extent as is provided for the punishment of the crime itself. [3]

One example of this is The Han Twins Murder Conspiracy case, where one twin sister attempted to hire two youths to have her twin sister killed.

One important feature of a conspiracy charge is that it relieves prosecutors of the need to prove the particular roles of conspirators. If two persons plot to kill another (and this can be proven), and the victim is indeed killed as a result of the actions of either conspirator, it is not necessary to prove with specificity which of the conspirators actually pulled the trigger. (Otherwise, both conspirators could conceivably handle the gun—leaving two sets of fingerprints—and then demand acquittals for both, based on the fact that the prosecutor would be unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, which of the two conspirators was the triggerman). In order to achieve a conviction on charges of conspiracy, is sufficient to prove that a) the conspirators did indeed conspire to commit the crime, and b) the crime was committed by an individual involved in the conspiracy. Proof of which individual it was is usually not necessary.

It is also an option for prosecutors, when bringing conspiracy charges, to decline to indict all members of the conspiracy (though their existence may be mentioned in an indictment). Such unindicted co-conspirators are commonly found when the identities or whereabouts of members of a conspiracy are unknown; or when the prosecution is only concerned with a particular individual among the conspirators. This is common when the target of the indictment is an elected official or an organized crime leader; and the co-conspirators are persons of little or no public importance. More famously, President Richard Nixon was named as an unindicted co-conspirator by the Watergate special prosecutor, in an event leading up to his eventual resignation.

Aiding and Abetting under U.S. Law

Courts often refer to aiding and abetting as an alternate theory of liability rather than a separate crime. Under 18 U.S.C. § 2, aiding and abetting liability is available in all federal criminal prosecutions; however, the availability and extent of civil aiding and abetting liability varies from statute to statute. Where available, aiding and abetting liability generally requires three elements: 1) an underlying violation by a principal; 2) knowledge of that violation and/or the intent to facilitate the violation; and 3) assistance to the principal in the violation. As indicated by the Supreme Court, “In order to aid and abet another to commit a crime it is necessary that a defendant 'in some sort associate himself with the venture, that he participate in it as in something that he wishes to bring about, that he seek by his action to make it succeed.” Nye & Nissen v. United States, 336 U.S. 613, 618 (1949) quoting Judge Learned Hand in U.S. v. Peoni 100 F.2d 401, 402 (2d. Cir. 1938).

In 1982, the United States Supreme Court held that accomplices may not be executed for the capital crimes of other criminals, if there is no evidence that the accomplice knew or even suspected that the primary wrongdoer might commit murder. In Enmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782 (1982), the accomplice was sitting in a car outside a house where a robbery was committed, and had no inkling that his partner in crime was going to kill the robbery victim.

Some states, including the state of California, have a system that distinguishes between an accessory, an accomplice, and a principal (or co-principal) in a different way. In this system, the difference between an accessory and an accomplice is not as listed above. An accessory would ONLY be someone who aids and abets the principal (the person who committed the crime OR helped in the planning of the crime) to escape justice after the crime has been committed (there is no more accessory "before" and "after" the fact... what was once "accessory before the fact" is now just "co-principal", and what was once "accessory after the fact" is now just "accessory". An accomplice is NOT a formal legal term in many states... it is "legal slang", and denotes ONLY "an accessory or co-principal that agrees to testify against another principal in a court of law".

Accomplice Liability (unlike conspiracy, no agreement necessary) -- Actual assistance required and principle must know of Accomplice's actions. • Defendant must intend to commit or to assist another in committing (requires specific intent)

• In some situations (the mental state might be that the accessory might think that the principal will commit the crime) • in some states the required mental state is the knowledge the principal’s mental state

Model Penal Code: a person who attempts to aid a person is guilty of being an accessory, regardless of whether the act or the attempted act occurred (§5.01.3) • Detectives are not culpable if they have a different mens rea (e.g. not to permanently deprive one of goods)

Some courts take the position that any active assistance establishes a mens rea

Common law categories • Principles in first degree • Principles in second degree -- one who gives "constructive prence" • Accessories before the fact; An accessory before the fact is one who procure counsels or commands the commission of a felony but who, unlike a principal in the second degree, is not present, actually or constructively, at the commission of the criminal act. • Accessories after the fact is defined as • Knowledge (not just suspicion) that a felony had been committed, and completed, by the assisted person;

Accomplices are liable for the crime itself and all other foreseeable crimes • Even if the principle has an immunity the accomplice can still be tried • accomplice is imputed with the mens rea of the actor (intent to commit or encourage the crime) (former lover looking for girl) • Both parties must have the same intent (relative helped robber rob store to help police catch him) • One is not an accomplice if they do not actively aiding or abetting or counseling the crime • Don't give people accomplice liability just because they are present, but they seem to be consenting

Mens Rea as to Result (in recklessness cases) • An accessory before the fact can be liable for the final act (ship boiler blew up) -- even for negligence • Participation can be an accessory An accomplice must have the same culpable mental state and intentionally aid in the commission (accident killing others while drag racing) • Actus Reus -- Wilcox v. Jeffery—The nature of the illegal act is immaterial (the jazz musician) • Sometimes just encouraging can be enough

Defenses to Accomplices liability • Withdrawal • Where an accessory has only counseled, commanded, or encouraged the crime, he may withdraw by communicating his changed intention to the other parties • If he has already given tangible aid, he must withdraw the aid or try to prevent its use (e.g., by warning the police). • Note that it is not necessary that the crime actually be prevented by his actions; if he withdraws properly, he will not be liable even if the crime takes place.

• Note, however, that the withdrawal must reflect a renunciation of the criminal purpose, not a mere determination that the odds of success are slim, or that one is afraid of getting caught. Also, such withdrawal must take place before the chain of events has become "unstoppable."

Defenses -- ways of knocking out the mens reas • Infancy • Under seven -- no criminal liability • Under fourteen -- rebuttable presumption of criminal liability • Insanity -- four tests == Most states the prosecutor has the burden of persuasion • M'Naughton Rule (traditional): • Two prongs • Defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity if he lacked the ability to know (and the time of his conduct) the wrongfulness of his action • to understand the nature and quality of his action -- requires a disease of the mind • I.e. one thinks that they are squeezing lemons • Accused’s sanity may be tested by his knowledge that his acts were legally wrong.

Father-daughter sex controversy: Full details from court | The Daily Telegraph

Father-daughter sex controversy: Full details from court | The Daily Telegraph

Fifteen Years of Jail for house breaking and stealing a guitar.