To put it in its simplest form, a conspiracy is where two or more people agree to commit a crime. To convict somebody of conspiracy is far easier for the prosecution because they do not have to prove a criminal offence has actually occurred, they only have to prove evidence of an agreement to commit an offence.
Often in conspiracy cases, there are more than two defendants. When you have a larger number of defendants there is a higher chance of one, or more, choosing to plead guilty. Once someone pleads to a conspiracy the prosecution's work is almost done as that plea confirms the existence of the conspiracy and it is often the case that others will fall like a house of cards. You can see why this tool is so often used by the prosecution, it makes their job an easier one, and the defence one that much harder. It is imperative that someone facing a conspiracy charge seeks free legal advice from a specialist conspiracy solicitor as soon as possible.
Defending a Conspiracy
The word conspiracy conjures up ideas of smoke-filled rooms, with people in dark glasses planning their next great heist. The reality couldn't be further from the truth.
Conspiracy is simply a reference to the contact between two or more people who might be engaged, or planning to engage in, criminal activity. Something must be going on, at least that is what the prosecution will say. A specialist conspiracy solicitor will have seen many cases where there are a large number of people charged for a single conspiracy, many of whom will never have met, or even known the existence of, some of the other people in the case.
It is not unusual for the person at the head of a conspiracy to have a network of communication and activity that links everyone in the conspiracy. It is important to anyone facing this charge that their specialist conspiracy solicitor is able to take them through the emails, text messages, and other digital communication to establish if and when there was communication regarding an alleged conspiracy and if that communication has been taken out of context, as is so often the case.
The key to any successful defence is preparation. This means working through the material with your solicitor so that when the case finally gets to court your barrister can help the jury to understand what the material really says.
It is also commonplace for those who find themselves at the end of an alleged conspiracy to be swept up by the prosecution in order to have a better chance of getting a guilty plea from someone higher up the chain. Often family members are charged as a way of getting a plea from another person in the case in exchange for the dropping of charges against the family member. It's a sad fact that the prosecution will use any tool available to them to get who they are really after, no matter who suffers as a result.
Unwitting participation in a crime
One of the things about conspiracy cases which can be really unfair, or seem really unfair if you find yourself at the tail end of a case, is that you might simply be a very junior person, perhaps an unwitting courier, or driver. The prosecution might, and often do, assume you are part of the criminal plan because you may have assisted in it just by being present at the scene, and doing what you regarded as your ordinary duties. It's really important to remember of course that in the legal definition of conspiracy that you have to know or to have knowledge that you were involved in criminal activity and that is the case for the prosecution to prove.
Getting advice from a specialist conspiracy solicitor is even more important when you consider how sentencing works in a conspiracy.
Sentencing can be a bit complicated in these cases because while a person is sentenced for the underlying offence, say possession with intent to supply class A drugs, that sentence is part of the conspiracy charge:
If someone pleads or is found guilty of a conspiracy after a trial they are sentenced on their level of involvement in the conspiracy. In practice, this sounds fair but think of a large-scale drugs conspiracy with millions of pounds worth of drugs at stake or hundreds of thousands of pounds defrauded from unwitting pensioners, even the lowest level participant is sentenced on the basis of the overall scale of the crime. Their involvement is split into the role a person is found to have played.