You could face charges for conspiracy in California if you and one person or more agree to commit an offense, then one of you does something to further that understanding. Conspiracy is a serious felony under California law, punishable by the penalties of the underlying offense. Therefore, if you conspired with others to commit a grave felony like rape, you could face a prison sentence of up to eight years or thirteen years if the victim of your conspiracy was a minor. Note that a conviction could still occur even if you have not accomplished the actual crime.
It helps to find a competent criminal lawyer for adequate defense if you face conspiracy charges in California. Your attorney will guide you through the complex legal process, advise you on your best legal options, and plan a strong defense against your charges.
What is Conspiracy Under California Law?
California PC 182 is the statute that provides a detailed explanation of conspiracy as an offense and its elements. Remember that this is not a crime whereby the police arrest you after the completion of the offense. You could face serious conspiracy charges if you and your friends, colleagues, or partners only planned to commit a crime, and one of you made an effort towards that plan, however minor that action would have been.
The legal definition of California conspiracy will help us understand the offense even better. It also provides the elements of the crime, which are the facts that the district attorney must prove before a court for you and your accomplices to face conviction under the statute:
- That you agreed with one person or more to commit an offense
- One person in that agreement did an overt act to advance or further that agreement
- One or more overt acts of the crime were accomplished
Remember that you cannot face conspiracy charges in California if you only associate or accompany members of a particular conspiracy. You will also not be guilty if you did not plan to commit the offense in the first place.
The law does not require you to know the roles and identity of other people in the conspiracy. The prosecutor will only focus his/her argument on whether or not you agreed to participate in the offense and that one of the conspirators made an effort towards its accomplishment.
Let us look into the meaning of some of the elements of this offense to understand it even better:
An agreement to a conspiracy doesn't have to be formal or detailed. The law doesn't require that you meet with one or more conspiracy members to plan and agree on your role in the offense. The prosecutor will not have to prove in court that you formally agreed to the conspiracy. Your agreement to conspire with others could have been inferred through your conduct.
Example: Mark’s friends plan to rob a jewelry shop downtown. Mark is present through all the planning. He doesn’t verbally agree to join in the robbery, but he plans to be there. Mark arrives together with three others and is arrested before they can execute their plans.
Mark did not have to agree to the plans formally, but his presence at the crime scene is reason enough for the prosecutor to believe that he was part of the conspiracy.
An Overt Act
It is an act done to help advance or accomplish a planned crime. Note that an overt act doesn’t have to be criminal at all. It is an act performed:
- After agreeing to commit an offense, even before the crime is complete
- On top of planning or deciding to commit an offense
Examples of actions that could be considered overt are lurking around a home or business you conspired to rob, just to study the owner’s routine, renting a car or room to facilitate the offense, purchasing a gun, or signaling to a member of the conspiracy.
You Can Defend Yourself Against Conspiracy Charges
If you face arrest for conspiracy, the best way out of your situation is through a solid defense. Conspiracy is a criminal offense, and so you’ll face criminal charges and could be convicted if the court finds you guilty as charged. That is why you need the help of a competent criminal attorney to help plan a solid defense against your charges. Fortunately for you, California law allows several defense strategies that your attorney can use in your favor, to compel the judge to either reduce or dismiss your charges. The most common of these defense strategies include:
There Wasn’t an Agreement
You can only be found guilty of conspiracy in California if you had an agreement with one person or more to commit a crime. That means that if you can prove before a jury that there wasn’t any agreement in the first place, you may not be guilty as charged. It could happen if one or more of your friends plan to commit an offense, then execute the plan in your presence.
Example: Billy and John have been great friends since high school. Lately, Billy has been experiencing financial problems, and John has been helping him out. Billy has been considering committing a robbery to make some quick cash to clear out some debts. But, he’s reluctant to let John in on the plan since he is sure that John would never agree to it.
One evening as the two friends are taking a walk, Billy pulls out a gun against a wealthy couple just before the couple enters their home. He planned to rob anyone he could find along the way of their money and other valuables. But the robbery was not a success.
If the two friends are arrested, they might face conspiracy charges since it might seem to the arresting officers that the two had conspired to rob the couple or other people. But John can cite a lack of an agreement to have the court drop his conspiracy charges.
Lack of Over Act
After an agreement, California laws require one or more parties to that understanding to do an overt act to advance or accomplish the plan. Planning to commit an offense isn’t enough to support California conspiracy charges. Therefore, if the overt act is lacking in your case, your attorney might compel the court to dismiss your charges.
Example: An officer on patrol walks in on three brothers as they plan to buy a drug consignment for resale. The three were laid off from work and looked for a way to make some money before finding proper jobs. The plan was to approach a well-known drug lord in their town for ideas and insight into what they needed to start dealing with drugs.
The brothers were conspiring to commit a serious felony, but since none of them did something to further the plan by the time of their arrest, they will not be guilty as charged.
You Withdrew From the Plan
You might have participated in the plan of committing a crime, but if you withdrew from the plan before the crime occurred, you’d not be guilty under California PC 182. However, you must have withdrawn from the plan before one or more conspiracy members committed an act to further or facilitate the crime’s completion.
Example: Mark and Nelly agree to commit insurance fraud. The plan is for Mark to stage a car accident, from which the insurance company will pay compensation. Nelly will act as an eyewitness and provide a detailed report to the insurance, and the police, on how the accident occurred. However, a week before the planned accident, Mark opts out.
In that case, Mark cannot face conspiracy charges since he opted out of the plan before any of them committed an overt act towards the execution of the plan.
Punishment for Conspiracy in California
A conviction for a conspiracy in California is punished according to the gravity of the underlying offense. If you conspired with one or more people into committing a felony, the conviction for conspiracy would equal the penalties for that felony offense. For instance, if you conspired with others to commit first-degree robbery, you could face a maximum of nine years of a prison sentence if you are found guilty under California PC 182.
On the other hand, if you receive a conviction for conspiring with others into committing more felonies, you’ll receive a penalty for the severest felony.
Conspiring to commit a California misdemeanor is a wobbler offense in California. It means that the prosecutor can treat it as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the nature of the underlying crime and your criminal history. The conviction would result in prison terms and fines.
On top of criminal penalties, a conspiracy conviction in California could carry other severe consequences. For instance, it could have serious immigration consequences. The U.S immigration law provides specific convictions that could cause a non-citizen to be deported from the U.S or marked as inadmissible to the U.S. Most of the crimes that bear serious immigration consequences are those listed as aggravated felonies and offenses of moral turpitude. A conspiracy to commit a crime under any of those categories will carry severe immigration consequences. It could cause you to face deportation if you are a non-citizen living in California.
A conspiracy conviction could also affect your gun rights. California gun laws provide a list of people exempted from owning or purchasing a gun in the state. They include convicted felons. It means that if you conspire to commit a felony in California, you could be sentenced to a felony offense, thereby losing your gun rights. You could also lose your gun rights if you conspired into committing a misdemeanor, and the prosecutor filed felony charges against you. When that happens, it will be illegal for you to buy or own a gun. If you previously had a gun, you will be required to surrender it immediately after the conviction.
The good news is that you can have the court expunge your conviction record and all the disabilities that come with a conviction. A criminal conviction is likely to affect your life in several ways, including an inability to find suitable employment. That is why California expungement laws allow you to petition the court to expunge a criminal record, make it publically unavailable, and hence incapable of affecting certain aspects of your life, like social and career. However, that will only be possible after completing probation and prison sentences (whichever applied to your case).
Offenses in California That are Related to Conspiracy
California law has specific offenses that are closely related to the conspiracy offense. Some of them are:
California PC 186.22(b) provides the state gang sentencing laws. The law prohibits any person from taking part in any crime to the advantage of a criminal gang. It could include planning to take part in or helping criminal gang activities. Anyone found guilty of participating in illegal gang-related activities is subject to mandatory incarceration on top of the punishment he/she is likely to receive for the original offense. The additional mandatory sentence should be served consecutively with the penalty for the actual crime. Based on the crime facts, the additional sentence could be up to 25 years or life imprisonment.
Conspiring to commit a crime is treated the same as committing the crime, which could subject you to criminal gang sentencing. You are likely to receive this conviction if you conspired into committing a felony offense to benefit a criminal gang.
For instance, if you conspired into committing a serious felony like murder or rape for the advantage of a particular criminal gang, you could receive an additional five years to your underlying prison sentence, which you must serve consecutively with the underlying sentence.
Aiding or Abetting a Crime
California PC 31 makes it a criminal offense for anyone to aid or encourage others in committing an offense. Anyone found guilty of facilitating, promoting, or aiding a crime is equally liable to the offense even if he/she was not present when the crime occurred. You could still be found guilty under this statute even if your role in the crime was pretty significant. But the prosecutor must demonstrate your involvement in the crime before a judge can pass his/her verdict.
You could face charges for aiding or abetting a crime if you helped a conspirator in any way. For instance, it could be that you helped in an overt act required to further or facilitate the planned crime. Note that you could still face serious criminal charges even if you were not part of the plan to commit the offense.
Attempting to Commit a Crime
California law under PC 664 makes it an offense to attempt to commit a crime. You could be guilty under this statute if you specifically planned to commit a criminal act, and you took one related step towards completing that offense. Conspiracy and attempting to commit a crime are pretty similar in their elements. For instance, both offenses require the defendant to have acted in the furthering of the planned offense.
However, conspiracy requires an agreement between two or more people, and as a minimum, one overt act to further the crime.
Sentencing for conspiracy and attempting to commit a crime is also different. If the court finds you guilty of conspiring to commit a crime, you’ll receive an equal sentence to the crime you were planning to commit. However, a person guilty of attempting to commit an offense receives half the penalties for the original crime.
Accessory After the Fact
California PC 32 makes it a crime for a person to harbor, aid, or conceal another person who committed a felony to protect the person from facing an arrest, persecution, trial, and conviction. You could be guilty under this statute if you helped a felon escape or hide from the police or by simply keeping quiet and not reporting a person to the police even after learning that they have committed a crime.
The offense is a wobbler in California. The prosecutor can charge it as a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the facts of the case. A felony sentence is punishable by a maximum of three years in prison.
You could face charges under California PC 32 if you help or harbor a person suspected of conspiracy to enable them to escape an arrest, criminal trial, conviction, and sentencing.
Find a San Jose Criminal Lawyer Near Me
If you face conspiracy charges in San Jose, CA, it could help to hire an experienced criminal lawyer. Your lawyer will help you understand the details and gravity of your offense, walk you through the legal process, and plan a strong defense against your charges. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, our team of skilled criminal attorneys will be with you, protecting your rights and fighting alongside you until you obtain a favorable outcome of your case. Call us at 408-622-0204, and let us study the facts of your case to advise on the right plan of action.