Criminal conspiracy is an agreement by two or more persons to commit an unlawful act or to commit an act via unlawful means. Conspiracy is often charged as part of a drug case alleging a distribution network.
If you are charged with conspiracy, you are innocent until proven guilty. In order to prove you guilty, the Commonwealth must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that:
1) you joined in an agreement or plan with one or more other persons;
2) that the purpose of the agreement was to do something unlawful, or to do something by unlawful means; and
3) that you joined the agreement knowing about the unlawful plan and intended to help carry it out.
Easier to prove in Massachusetts than in some other states.
In Massachusetts, it is not required to prove that you took some step( s) towards carrying out the conspiracy. This makes convictions much easier to obtain.
In addition it is not always possible to prove a conspiracy by direct evidence, so prosecutors often rely on circumstantial to seek convictions. While some states also require an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy to be proved, meaning the prosecutor must show that the defendant also took some step towards carrying out the conspiracy, Massachusetts courts have long discredited this approach.
In most cases, conspiracy is charged in addition to another offense, normally the subsequent crime committed as part of the conspiracy. Under Massachusetts law, even if a defendant is acquitted for the subsequent offense, the defendant can be found guilty of conspiracy or vice versa.
Penalties for conspiracy.
The penalties for conspiracy can be severe, depending on the offense the defendant conspired to commit. If the defendant conspired to commit a felony that is punishable by life in prison, the punishment for the conspiracy offense could be up to 20 years in jail in addition to a $10,000 fine. If the defendant conspired to commit an offense that was punishable by ten years or more, then the defendant could be placed in jail for up to ten years and fined up to $10,000. For all other conspiracies to commit felonies punishable for less than ten years in prison, the defendant could be held in jail for five years and charged a fine of $5,000. Finally, if a defendant is found guilty of conspiracy to commit a crime that is not a felony, the defendant could still be given a sentence of up to 2 ½ years in jail and a fine of $2,000.
These penalties are in addition to any sentence for the crime that was the purpose of the conspiracy, such as distribution of drugs or fraud.