St. Louis residents make agreements with each other every day on various issues. Whether it be settling something at work or making a plan at home, it is often beneficial to work with other individuals to accomplish goals. In the criminal justice system, however, allegations of working with other individuals can result in charges of a conspiracy.
While individuals may be familiar with the term "conspiracy," they may not understand what exactly it entails. Generally speaking, a conspiracy is simply an agreement between two or more individuals to commit an unlawful act. The act itself is not limited, as long as it is something that is unlawful.
For instance, two men were recently charged with fraud in unlawfully receiving $1.6 million in food stamp benefits. The men allegedly owned stores where they conspired to illegally pay cash for the discounted benefits. Two other individuals, including one from St. Louis, were charged with conspiracy to acquire the benefits.
As a general matter, individuals do not need to actually commit the unlawful act itself in order for a conspiracy to be charged. Accordingly, if two individuals plan to commit an unlawful act, it is not typically a defense to conspiracy charges that they were unable to commit the act itself.
However, more than the agreement itself may be required, as individuals typically need to conduct some action toward the conspiracy's goal, even if it falls short of accomplishing the goal. Accordingly, if individuals make a plan to commit an unlawful act and start to take action on some steps toward that plan, conspiracy charges could be brought.
Ultimately, conspiracy charges need to be taken very seriously, given the penalties available. The charges need to be sorted out to determine what the government is alleging was agreed to, between which individuals, and what steps were taken in the conspiracy, so that individuals can mount a defense to the charges.
Source: The State Journal Register, "Swansea men charged in food stamp conspiracy," Oct. 27, 2014