What is Conspiracy Under California Law

The Penal Code provides for multiple criminal regulations and penalties for persons who violate them. Among these rules is the prohibition from engagement in a conspiracy to commit an offense. While the Penal Code provides the prohibitive text, citizens may often question the real definition of a conspiracy. Similarly, an arrested person may dispute the facts in an accusation based on several factors.

Thus, learning about what the offense entails will be beneficial for you and your loved ones. You may also need additional help from your criminal defense attorney when handling the matter.

The California Penal Code Definition of a Conspiracy

When you or a loved one faces conspiracy charges, you want to understand exactly what course of action attracts legal consequences. You can do this by consulting the Penal Code provisions for specific details on the offense. Conspiracy is prohibited under section 182 of the code, attracting several penalties discussed below.

The Penal Code also provides the elements of crime associated with the offense to help build a case against you. Therefore, you want to familiarize yourself with the provisions and compare them to your actions. If similarities arise, your criminal defense lawyer will help you prepare defenses to justify your actions. Similarly, your attorney plays a pivotal role in challenging accusations presented against you during the trial.

The Elements of Crime for Conspiracy Charges

Upon facing arrest, you are subjected to the California criminal justice system. This entails facing detention as you await release on bail/bond or by your own recognizance. Subsequently, you will await your official criminal trial to begin, whereby a prosecutor presents a case against you.

Under the criminal procedure regulations and the laws of evidence, the prosecutor holds the burden of proof. This means that they are responsible for proving your involvement in the crime you are accused of. As a result, the prosecutor will work closely with investigation officers, witnesses, and other key persons to gather evidence against you.

Moreover, the prosecution team must work on presenting evidence for each element of the crime. The rationale for this is because you cannot be guilty of the offense if your participation was not proven. Hence, you should be prepared to face the presentations by having a criminal defense lawyer representing you. This way, they can pick up on any inaccurate information and use it to create strong defenses.

When trying to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecutor will present these elements of the crime:

You Formed an Agreement to Commit an Offense With a Third Party

The first and main element for the prosecutor to prove is that you agreed to commit an action that violates penal code provisions. This would automatically equate the action agreed upon to an offense punishable under additional penal code guidelines.

When presenting this element, the prosecutor aims to prove that you agreed on committing the crime with other parties. Hence, a consensus is a crucial factor to establish, as it demonstrates the agreement in questions.

An important factor to note is that the prosecutor does not need to prove that your agreement was formal. Subsequently, they do not have to present signed documents or any other written material as evidence. Instead, the law recognizes informal agreements provided they demonstrate a meeting of ideas.

Moreover, an agreement can be inferred depending on the case circumstances. This pushes the prosecutor to rely on multiple evidential sources provided they present information on the conspiracy.

Based on the scope of admissible evidence, the prosecutor may present actions like sending text messages, handshakes, or nodding as proof of having reached an agreement.

Similarly, witnesses may appear for the prosecution to corroborate primary evidence. They may do so by testifying on seeing you and other accused persons reaching an agreement. Alternatively, they may assert the subject matter of your agreement by repeating it in court.

Your criminal defense attorney will follow the prosecutor's presentation closely and pick out any erroneous information. Doing this will help build a stronger defense case, giving you a chance for a positive outcome.

One of the Agreeing Parties Engaged in an Overt Act

Secondly, the prosecutor must prove that one of the accused parties committed an overt act. The law defines overt acts as any actions taken to prepare for the conspired crime. Based on a broad definition, the prosecutor can present overwhelming evidence against you. Nonetheless, it will only be admissible if it is relevant to the case circumstances in question.

A few pointers will guide the prosecutor when trying to prove involvement in an overt act. Firstly, the action in question must have occurred after the accused parties formed a conspiracy.

This is to help in excluding irrelevant actions that occurred before the accused formed an agreement. If the prosecutor were to consider the previous actions, their case would take longer to conclude. Consequently, they may frustrate the trial process more than necessary.

Further, the overt act in question should be directly linked to the agreement formed by accused parties. Therefore, committing any actions bearing no link to the planned offense cannot be introduced in court as evidence.

A case in point is where parties conspire to carjack a vehicle. In this case, overt acts may involve purchasing firearms to scare the victim and nails to cause disruption on the road before the carjacking begins.

On the other hand, shopping for household items does not qualify to be an overt act. Hence, the prosecutor will need to work closely with the investigation officers to retrieve accurate information.

An overt act is chargeable as a separate offense in adverse cases, particularly if it causes property destruction. For example, breaking locks in an establishment in preparation for committing a robbery is a separate offense called vandalism. If so, you may face joint charges and risk receiving harsher penalties if found guilty.

The Party Committed the Overt Action in the State

Lastly, the party accused of committing an overt act should have done it in the state. This is to help the prosecutor work within the appropriate jurisdiction for a trial to proceed.

Additionally, some offenses are recognized in California but not in other states. Alternatively, the prosecution system may differ significantly. The outcomes may change the accused person's sentence, so the best option is to maintain the judicial process in California.

When presenting on the element, the prosecutor will need accurate information on your location when doing the overt act. They may do this by presenting coordinates or a location pin. Further, images of you and other accused persons in the location are admissible as proof.

An applicable defense option to this element is presenting an alibi. This is an account of being in a different location at the time of the alleged conspiracy. Despite this, you should be ready to back your claims with evidence of your correct whereabouts.

For example, you want to invite a witness who was with you in a separate location to support your alibi. Your phone tracker can also provide resourceful details on your previous locations. You can request to retrieve the details from your service provider to help build your evidential source.

Upon presenting the details, the judge will assess your evidence and compare it to the prosecutor's presentation. Since the question of your location is straightforward, you should have a proper chance in succeeding after presenting evidence.

Defenses Applicable to the Crime

Once the prosecution closes their case, your criminal defense attorney will present defenses as a response to the claims. The opportunity is in line with the criminal justice requirements, as well as the constitutional provisions for a fair trial.

As a result, you want to take advantage of the chance and conduct in-depth research and due diligence. This involves assessing the prosecutor's presentation, identifying your potential counterarguments, and sourcing evidence.

When working with your criminal defense attorney, you will benefit from the professional legal services available. Their preparation should consolidate the discussed evidential sources to reduce the chances of an unfair case outcome.

While you are free to explore the defenses listed below, you should remember that not all arguments are relevant to your case. As a result, you want to go over the crucial case factors to determine the best approach for your arguments. Nonetheless, your criminal attorney can recommend presenting multiple counterarguments for better persuasion.

The main defenses applicable to the conspiracy are:

You Face False Accusations

Facing false accusations may arise from various factors. For example, a case of mistaken identity can easily result in your arrest and trial despite having no involvement in the conspiracy. Subsequently, you will be answerable to charges including unfamiliar details, and you will have to appear in court. Due to this, you want to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney because they can help identify the best argument strategies.

Alternatively, false accusations may begin with police misconduct, whereby a false police entry is recorded. This may be because someone seeks vindication or has other malicious intentions against you. 

When presenting police misconduct as the source of false accusations, be sure to collect enough evidence. Having sufficient proof will support your case significantly, as the prosecutor and investigation police work equally hard to disprove you.

Lastly, false accusations may arise from a witness lying on oath, amounting to perjury. The offense is punishable under the California Penal Code, so you want to report the occurrence as soon as possible. Disputing the witness's evidence helps to support your claims, as you will avoid sounding contradictory.

You Did Not Reach an Agreement

Among the most important elements to prove is that you reached an agreement to commit a crime. Therefore, you can defend yourself by stating that you and other accused persons did not agree to the offense.

Although the defense is acceptable, you will need to prepare a detailed account of what happened during the alleged time of agreement. Often, this may involve contradicting the prosecutor's claims entirely and introducing your own.

For example, if the prosecutor inferred your agreement through your language, you can introduce an in-depth analysis of your statements. With your attorney's help, the analysis will reveal a possibly different meaning to your statements, giving you a chance to avoid penalties.

You Had No Intention to Commit an Offense

Moreover, an accused party can only be found guilty of the crime if they demonstrated an intention to engage in it. The criminal procedure requires you to have premeditated the crime with other parties, resulting in an unlawful agreement.

However, you can argue that you did not intend to commit the crime, nor did you make any plans. For example, you could argue that your statements were hypothetical and only came up during a discussion. 

Alternatively, you can claim to have been in a compromised state of mind, meaning you were incapable of contemplating the offense. Thus, the defense is suitable if you were very drunk or temporarily insane when the alleged conspiracy occurred.

You Withdrew Your Agreement/Intention to Commit an Offense

Furthermore, persons who withdraw their involvement in a conspiracy can use the action as a defense. The argument is acceptable on the basis that your withdrawal indicates non-committal to unlawful activities.

Once you withdraw your intentions or agreement, you ought to inform the other parties involved in the arrangement. Doing this will help them exclude you from all future plans, meaning you will not participate in the crime if it occurs.

Following the requirement to inform others of withdrawal, the defense may not work if you continue meeting and discussing the conspiracy. It will be irrelevant that you had mentally withdrawn from committing the offense, as it is an unclear measure of non-involvement.

Penalties for Committing a Conspiracy

After presenting your defenses, the judge or jury then takes over and prepares a verdict. If a jury and a judge are hearing your case, the jury's role is to find you either guilty or not guilty.

Thus, the jury members actively listen to both sides of the case throughout the trial process. If the judge or jury finds you guilty, a sentencing hearing will follow, whereby you will learn of the penalties you face.

The penalties issued for committing a conspiracy depend on the type of offense you had intended to commit. Subsequently, parties conspiring to commit any felony recognized in California will face penalties normally issued for the felony. For example, if you conspired to commit arson, the judge may sentence you to up to three years. This is in line with the Penal Code provisions for arson penalties.

Additionally, a conspiracy to commit multiple penalties often results in an enhanced sentence. Under the sentencing policies, the judge should choose and apply penalties for the felony with the harshest sentence. Subsequently, you are likely to pay high fines and spend several years in state prison, depending on the type of felony in the conspiracy.

On the other hand, forming a conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor attracts less harsh penalties. This would be because of the less severe nature of most misdemeanor crimes, especially if no victim was physically hurt. 

Hence, involvement in a conspiracy for offenses like petty theft attracts a different set of punishment. Often, conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor is classified as a wobbler crime, meaning it may attract penalties equal to the misdemeanor or felony conspiracy.

Cases involving felony under this section arise when the conspired misdemeanor crime can be enhanced to a felony when committed. Therefore, the judge will assess each case and determine the most appropriate consequences for you. 

Usually, the sentencing hearing is scheduled on a different day from the final trial date. This is to avail enough time for the judge to prepare a sentencing judgment.

You should note that the judge is responsible for issuing reasons for their decision, especially if they decide to enhance or reduce the sentence. While the common punishment for conspiracy cases in California is penalties equal to the conspired offense, you may face harsher penalties in particular circumstances.

For example, conspiracy to commit a capital offense attracts felony penalties. On top of the standard imprisonment time, the judge may issue an enhanced sentence depending on the overt acts committed. If the judge can derive premeditated intention to commit the offense, you are more likely to face enhanced punishments.

Although your case may involve aggravating or mitigating factors, the presiding judge will oversee a change in sentencing policies. This means that the effects do not necessarily have to apply. On the other hand, the judge may be compelled to change the sentences in conformity with the circumstances. Your attorney will help identify the possibilities of changes in the case outcome.

Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

When you or a loved one faces conspiracy charges, you want to understand the repercussions and possible defenses to use. Doing so will help you prepare for your trial accordingly by gathering enough evidence and anticipating the prosecutor's attacks. With support from the right legal team, you will be in a better position to defend your case successfully.

At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, you will work with a dedicated team of lawyers when preparing for your case. Our support includes sourcing evidence to support your defense arguments, staying in touch with the prosecutor, and preparing witnesses. Therefore, you can trust us to provide excellent legal services to increase your chances of success. Contact us at 310-564-2605.

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