Conspiracy

ConspiracyConspiracy is one of the most confusing and potentially unfair concepts in criminal law.  It provides law enforcement, and state and federal prosecutors with an enormous amount of power by giving them the ability to pursue charges against defendants who have not actually been caught executing a crime.  Conspiracy became a favored method for the federal government to take down organized crime decades ago, and in more recently has been a key component of the fed’s war on drugs.  United States Attorney’s also use it to charge individuals for their involvement in complex financial crimes such as money laundering, embezzlement, and general fraud cases.  But cases are hardly limited to the federal system, as we have seen an increased number popping up in state courts from Baltimore to the Eastern Shore.  Many of these state cases involve drug trafficking rings, which are too small for the feds but large enough to trigger state police involvement.  For example, we have defended conspiracy to distribute narcotics cases that involved heroin and pills alleged to have been sold in multiple counties including Anne Arundel, Caroline, Talbot, and Worcester.

From a defendant and his or her attorney’s perspective, one of the main problems with conspiracy is that the definition is so general, and can include a wide range of conduct.  It exists when two or more persons enter into and agreement to accomplish a criminal or unlawful purpose, and it is actually a separate crime.  In other words, a defendant can be charged and even convicted for the crimes of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, and for distribution of narcotics.  The penalty for conspiracy is not defined, but it cannot be more that the crime itself, and it is always misdemeanor.  Despite being a misdemeanor, it does count as a prior offense in cases where the state is seeking enhanced drug crime penalties.  Like attempt, conspiracy is a common law crime in Maryland, which means you won’t find it in any statute book, or online database.  Generally it will simply show up in a statement of charges or in an indictment.

It is important to understand that there is no requirement that the state prove either party actually took steps to act out the crime they agreed upon.  This is also called an overt act, and is specifically excluded as a requirement under Maryland law.  To prove conspiracy though, the state must prove that the parties had what is called a meeting of the minds.  This is a fancy phrase for saying they were on the same page, and they both intended to carry out the crime.  The meeting of the minds requirement excludes law enforcement from being one of the parties to a conspiracy, as they definitely would not be on the same page.  A large percentage of conspiracy cases arise from intercepted conversations in text messages, emails, and phone calls.  Wiretap warrants have become increasingly popular for state law enforcement, and in some cases recorded conversations are the only evidence the state will present at trial.

There are numerous defenses available to a defendant that has been charged with conspiracy, and it is important to consult with an attorney that has handled these cases.  Benjamin Herbst is available 24 hours a day to discuss your conspiracy charge in state or federal court, regardless of whether it is for a drug crime, fraud, theft, or any other offense.
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