In the law, a conspiracy refers to an agreement between two or more people to commit an unlawful act, or to deprive another person of his legal rights. The agreement to act must be moved toward a conclusion, whether or not it is actually accomplished. Plans made by a certain combination of people for unlawful or secret purposes may also be considered a conspiracy. To explore this concept, consider the following conspiracy definition.

Definition of Conspiracy


  1. An agreement between two or more people to commit a crime.
  2. The act of conspiring together to an unlawful end.


1325-1375       Middle English

What is Conspiracy

A conspiracy is an agreement or plan, made between two or more people, to engage in an illegal act, to obtain an unlawful objective, or to deprive another person of his legal rights. A conspiracy may be engaged in to move a plan forward, each person involved aware of his or her part. It is not necessary for each person involved in a conspiracy to engage in – or even be aware of – each stage or act involved in gaining the objective.

The criminal act of conspiracy may be charged if:

  1. Legal means are used to accomplish an illegal result; or
  2. Illegal means are used to accomplish a legal result.

Incomplete Crimes

When most people think about crime, it is often assumed that the accused person has completed the crime, and is at the point of prosecution and punishment. There are certain phases a person goes through before the actual accomplishment of a criminal act.

  1. Idea – the wrongdoer comes up with an idea for an illegal act.
  2. Evaluation – the wrongdoer considers the pros and cons of the idea, and decides whether or not to proceed.
  3. Decision – the wrongdoer decides to move forward with the idea or plan.
  4. Preparation – the wrongdoer makes preparation to commit the crime or wrongful act, perhaps creating falsified documents, contacting potential victims, or obtaining a weapon.
  5. Commencement – the wrongdoer launches the plan.
  6. Completion – the wrongdoer completes the plan, or obtains the objective.

The law does not punish people for the ideas that float through their heads – even if they put in the effort to refine them, with the idea of committing the act. It does, however, punish people for completing an illegal act. Incomplete crimes encompass the steps in the middle of the process. These incomplete crimes include such acts as:

  • Conspiracy – an agreement between two or more people to engage in unlawful acts, or to use lawful means to achieve an unlawful goal.
  • Attempt to commit a crime – a crime that the wrongdoer failed to complete, either by being unable to achieve the goal, or by changing his mind after committing the early steps.
  • Solicitation – the act of inviting, encouraging, or commanding another person to engage in a criminal act.

Criminal Conspiracy

A criminal conspiracy involves an agreement made between two or more people to commit a crime, or to engage in illegal activity to achieve even a legal end. Such plans are not required to have been in secret to be defined as criminal conspiracy, or does any party to the conspiracy need to be aware of the entire plan. In most jurisdictions, in order for an activity to rise to the level of criminal conspiracy, at least one party must have engaged in an overt act toward accomplishing the unlawful or wrongful goal.

For example:

Linda and Bob took in an entire litter of puppies when a neighbor was unable to care for them. Although the puppies were a mixed breed, they make a plan to advertise and sell the puppies as “registered” lab puppies. Stacy, having responded to an online ad for the puppies, picks out her favorite, and pays the couple $300. With the puppy, Stacy is given a falsified registration document.

In this example of conspiracy, Linda and Bob made an agreement to fraudulently induce people to pay a premium price for crossbreed dogs. Further, they engaged in the overt acts of advertising the puppies as purebred labs, and creating fraudulent registration documents.

Civil Conspiracy

A civil conspiracy is a civil tort that involves an agreement between two or more parties to either deceive someone for the purpose of obtaining an illegal objective, or to deprive someone of his legal rights. The concept of civil conspiracy allows a victim to file a civil lawsuit against conspirators who sought to deprive him, whether or not there was an actual crime that might result in criminal prosecution.

A plaintiff in a civil conspiracy lawsuit must prove that the accused conspirators made an agreement together to commit illegal acts, in order to achieve their unlawful goals. Unlike criminal conspiracy, it is not necessary for a plaintiff to prove that a conspirator committed an overt act in furtherance of the unlawful goal.

In addition, it is not generally necessary to prove that the defendants (conspirators) had the intent to harm any specific person. Rather, the law defines civil conspiracy as an agreement to engage in illegal activity toward an unlawful goal.

For example:

David and Josh come up with a plan to sell a certain cleaning product to consumers – a product that does not exist. Their plan is to mix water with a little ammonia and put it into spray bottles with home-printed labels. The pair recruit four people to sell the bogus product door-to-door, promising them a percentage of each bottle sold.

It’s not long before the consumers who bought the product begin complaining, and someone files a complaint with a law enforcement agency.

In this example of conspiracy, David and Josh had the intent to deprive consumers of their money. The salespeople, however, knew nothing of the conspiracy, and did not intend to harm anyone. In addition to possible criminal charges, the pair may be subjected to lawsuits for civil conspiracy.

Punishment for Conspiracy

Many people look at charges of conspiracy as a lesser crime to the actual criminal act. While that may be true to some degree, conspirators of serious crimes do not get off easy. In most jurisdictions, the crime of conspiracy is punished in line with the seriousness of the actual crime (the “target act”). Conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor act is a misdemeanor, and conspiracy to commit a felony is a felony.

For example:

Malcom and Stephanie make a plan to steal certain medications from the pharmacy in which Stephanie works. While Malcom actually performed the burglary, Stephanie gave him the combination for the locked cabinet in which the medications were stored.

In this example of conspiracy, Malcom’s crime is a first degree felony. Stephanie is charged with criminal conspiracy, which is a second degree felony. This is common – charging conspiracy as one step lower than the actual completion of the crime.

Conspiracy Example in Gang Activity

In 2014, police in New York City arrested rapper Bobby Shmurda, whose real name is Ackquille Pollard, for his involvement with a gang, including drug activity and weapons. Pollard was charged with fourth degree conspiracy, and conspiracy in criminal possession of a weapon.

Although the rapper claimed the gun police found in his apartment was a prop for a video, he ultimately pled guilty to possession of a loaded gun with the intent to use it “unlawfully against another.” As part of the plea agreement, Pollard also pled guilty to conspiracy.

Pollard was sentenced to 7 years for criminal possession of a weapon, and 1-3 years for conspiracy. These terms were ordered to run concurrently, which means the 1-3 years tolls during the 7 years. After his prison term, Pollard is to be on supervised release (parole) for five years.

Additional Defendants

Pollard’s indictment was just a small portion of the more than 15 gang members charged with violent and drug-related crimes. Fellow gang member Alex Crandon was charged for his involvement in various shootings and other violent acts, as well as his participation in a murder. Crandon refused a plea deal, taking his case to trial. The jury convicted him of conspiracy, murder, attempted murder, among other charges. Crandon was sentenced to spend more than 53 years in prison.

Another fellow gang member, Santino Boderick, also refused a plea deal in exchange for a 15-year sentence. The jury convicted Boderick of attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, possession of a weapon, and a long list of other felony charges. Before the judge announced Boderick’s sentencing, the gang member spewed profanities to the judge. He was escorted out of the courtroom, after which the judge issued a sentence of 17-130 years in prison.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Intent – A resolve to perform an act for a specific purpose; a resolution to use a particular means to a specific end.
  • Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.
  • Tort – An intentional or negligent act, a civil wrong, as opposed to a criminal act, which causes harm to another.