conspiracy | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

In criminal law, conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime or accomplish an illegal purpose.

In criminal law, conspiracy refers to an agreement between two or more individuals to commit a crime or achieve an unlawful purpose. The crime of conspiracy involves not only the agreement but also the intention to commit a criminal act. This act is distinct from the actual criminal offense that was planned, and as such, conspiracy is often charged as a separate offense. For instance, if two people plot to rob a bank, they can be charged with conspiracy to commit bank robbery, even if the actual robbery is never carried out.

Elements of Conspiracy

The crime of conspiracy has several key elements that must be proven in a court of law to secure a conviction.


First and foremost, there must be an agreement between two or more people. This agreement is the core of a conspiracy charge. However, it’s important to understand that this doesn’t always need to be a formal, explicitly stated agreement. Instead, it can be implicit, inferred from the actions or circumstances surrounding the individuals involved.


Second, the parties involved in the conspiracy must have intended to agree and participate in the criminal act. This means that the individuals involved must have been aware of the unlawful nature of their actions and still chosen to participate. The intent to engage in the criminal activity is a crucial component of the crime of conspiracy.

Overt Act

Third, at least one member of the conspiracy must have committed an overt act in furtherance of the agreement. This means that they have taken some action that moves the group closer to completing the criminal act. This could include buying the equipment needed for a robbery, renting a getaway vehicle, or even scouting out a location.

Conspiracy According to the Model Penal Code

The Model Penal Code, a guide used to standardize and shape criminal law across different jurisdictions, offers a comprehensive view of the crime of conspiracy. It states that a person is guilty of conspiracy if they agree with another person or persons to commit a crime or if they agree to aid another person or persons in the planning or commission of a crime. The Model Penal Code further states that the person must have done so with the purpose of promoting or facilitating the commission of the crime.

Moreover, under the Model Penal Code, an overt act is required for conspiracy charges involving a misdemeanor or a felony of the third degree. This means that for more serious crimes, the conspiracy can exist purely in agreement and intention, without any overt act taken.

Punishment for Conspiracy

The punishment varies greatly depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the planned crime. In some cases, the penalties for conspiracy can be as severe as those for the actual crime that was planned. This is because the law seeks to deter people from even planning to engage in criminal activities, not just carrying them out. In some cases, the penalties for conspiracy can even exceed those of the underlying crime, particularly when the planned crime is of a serious nature.


Conspiracy is a serious crime that involves the planning and intention to commit a criminal act. It’s a complex area of law that involves several key elements, including an agreement between two or more individuals, the intention to commit a crime, and an overt act taken in furtherance of the conspiracy. While the actual definition and punishment can vary between jurisdictions, the central idea remains the same: the law seeks to prevent and punish not only criminal acts but also the planning and intention behind them.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/14/2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.