An agreement between two or more persons to engage jointly in an unlawful or criminal act, or an act that is innocent in itself but becomes unlawful when done by the combination of actors. Conspiracy is governed by statute in federal courts and most state courts. Before its Codification in state and federal statutes, the crime of conspiracy was simply an agreement to engage in an unlawful act with the intent to carry out the act. Federal statutes, and many state statutes, now require not only agreement and intent but also the commission of an Overt Act in furtherance of the agreement.
Conspiracy is a crime separate from the criminal act for which it is developed. For example, one who conspires with another to commit Burglary and in fact commits the burglary can be charged with both conspiracy to commit burglary and burglary. Conspiracy is an inchoate, or preparatory, crime. It is similar to solicitation in that both crimes are committed by manifesting an intent to engage in a criminal act. It differs from solicitation in that conspiracy requires an agreement between two or more persons, whereas solicitation can be committed by one person alone.
Conspiracy also resembles attempt. However, attempt, like solicitation, can be committed by a single person. On another level, conspiracy requires less than attempt. A conspiracy may exist before a crime is actually attempted, whereas no attempt charge will succeed unless the requisite attempt is made.
The law seeks to punish conspiracy as a substantive crime separate from the intended crime because when two or more persons agree to commit a crime, the potential for criminal activity increases, and as a result, the danger to the public increases. Therefore, the very act of an agreement with criminal intent (along with an overt act, where required) is considered sufficiently dangerous to warrant charging conspiracy as an offense separate from the intended crime.
According to some criminal law experts, the concept of conspiracy is too elastic, and the allegation of conspiracy is used by prosecutors as a superfluous criminal charge. Many criminal defence lawyers maintain that conspiracy is often expanded beyond reasonable interpretations. In any case, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys alike agree that conspiracy cases are usually amorphous and complex.
Section 120-A of the I.P.C. defines ‘conspiracy’ to mean that when two or more persons agree to do, or cause to be done an illegal act, or an act which is not illegal by illegal means, such an agreement is designated as “criminal conspiracy. No agreement except an agreement to commit an offence shall amount to a criminal conspiracy, unless some act besides the agreement is done by one or more parties to such agreement in furtherance thereof. Section 120-B of the I.P.C. prescribes punishment for criminal conspiracy. It is not necessary that each conspirator must know all the details of the scheme nor be a participant at every stage. It is necessary that they should agree for design or object of the conspiracy.
Conspiracy is conceived as having three elements:
(2) between two or more persons by whom the agreement is effected; and
(3) a criminal object, which may be either the ultimate aim of the agreement, or may constitute the means, or one of the means by which that aim is to be accomplished. It is immaterial whether this is found in the ultimate objects. The common law definition of ‘criminal conspiracy’ was stated first by Lord Denman in Jones’ case (1832 B & AD 345) that an indictment for conspiracy must “charge a conspiracy to do an unlawful act by unlawful means” and was elaborated by Willies, J. on behalf of the Judges while referring the question to the House of Lords in Mulcahy v. Reg (1868) L.R. 3 H.L. 306 and the House of Lords in unanimous decision reiterated in Quinn v. Leathem 1901 AC 495 at 528 as under: “A conspiracy consists not merely in the intention of two or more, but in the agreement of two or more to do an unlawful act, or to do a lawful act by unlawful means. So long as such a design rests in intention only it is not indictable. When two agree to carry it into effect, the very plot is an act in itself, and the act of each of the parties, promise against promise, actus contra actum, capable of being enforced, if lawful, punishable of for a criminal object or for the use of criminal means.
Section 120B: Punishment of criminal conspiracy-
(1) Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable with death, imprisonment for life or rigorous imprisonment for a term of two years or upwards, shall, where no express provision is made in this Code for the punishment of such a conspiracy, be punished in the same manner as if he had abetted such offence.
(2) Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy other than a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable as aforesaid shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months, or with fine or with both.