You may be charged with conspiracy if you agree with another person or group to commit a crime. There are various types of conspiracy charges in Virginia. These types include conspiracy to commit a felony, conspiracy to commit a drug crime, conspiracy to commit larceny, and conspiracy to trespass.
In this article, we will focus mainly on the criminal offense of conspiracy to commit a felony. After you’ve read this article, we hope that you will have understood the Virginia legal framework governing this offense and the elements that the prosecutor must prove for you to be convicted for it, as well as its penalties and potential defenses.
We at the Virginia Criminal Attorney can provide you aggressive legal representation if you have been charged with a conspiracy crime in Fairfax or Northern Virginia. We understand how stressful it is to face a criminal charge. This is why we are here to help you. We will support you throughout each stage of the criminal trial process and assist you in obtaining the most favorable outcome. Contact us if you have any questions about conspiracy charges.
What is Conspiracy?
Generally, the term ‘conspiracy’ refers to the act of agreeing with another person to commit an offense. This offense may be committed immediately or in the near future.
The Virginia Department of Prosecution can charge you with the criminal offense of conspiracy if you agree with at least two individuals to commit an offense. Note that you cannot be charged with conspiracy if you had agreed to commit a crime with just one person.
Virginia Criminal Laws do not limit the number of individuals who may be involved in a conspiracy. As a result, you may be charged with several other individuals for the same crime under similar facts.
In most instances, the prosecution will allege that you have come up with a plan to commit a criminal offense. However, the prosecution does not need to prove that the plan was executed.
The prosecutor can opt to exclude certain individuals from conspiracy charges. These individuals may be excluded because of immunity, evidentiary concerns, and other pragmatic considerations.
A person who repents to having conspired to commit a crime is not excused from incurring liability. But, the court may issue this person a reduced sentence.
The History of Conspiracy Crimes
In the past, conspiracy was not deemed to be a criminal offense. As per Edward Coke, this offense started out as a legal remedy for individuals who wanted to claim compensation for false accusations and prosecution.
The origin of the criminal offense of conspiracy is in England, under the common law system. The first statute in the world that illegalized conspiracy was the English Ordinance of Conspirators, which was enacted between 1285 – 1330. According to this law, it was unlawful for two or more individuals to agree to accuse someone else falsely. Under this statute, an aggrieved person, who was falsely accused, could claim for compensation from the individuals who conspired to accuse him/her falsely. Moreover, conspiring individuals could face severe penalties that the judge would impose. Therefore, conspiracy was first categorized as a civil wrong, rather than a moral wrong. It also had a completely narrow scope.
In the 17th century, the scope of conspiracy was expanded. From the 17th century onwards, it was unlawful to agree with two or more individuals to commit any offense.
At the onset of the 18th century, conspiracy was widely categorized as a moral wrong. It was during this time when the act of conspiracy was criminalized.
Currently, conspiracy is a subject of many controversies in the United States. This is due to its amorphous and broad scope. For example, if an individual is charged with the offense of conspiracy to commit a felony, one may wonder which specific felony he/she had planned to commit.
Note that the United States has adopted the English legal system jurisprudence on various offenses, including conspiracy. For instance, the Virginia legal definition of conspiracy has primarily been borrowed from the common law definition.
The United States has various federal laws that criminalize conspiracy. The primary law that criminalizes conspiracy is United States Code 371. This means that you can be charged under both Federal law and State law for conspiracy.
The most famous case involving conspiracy in the United States is the Watergate Investigation Scandal. In this case, former US President Richard Nixon wasn't indicted because of executive privilege.
The Legal Definition of Conspiracy to Commit a Felony
The primary law that sets out the offense of conspiracy to commit a felony is Virginia Code 18.2-22. According to this law, it is unlawful to combine, confederate, or conspire with another person to commit a felony.
As per the provisions of this law, you will not be convicted for conspiracy to commit a felony if you merely associated with or accompanied individuals who were conspiring to commit an offense. The primary focus of this offense is whether you had a criminal intention and if you had planned to execute the criminal act. Moreover, it isn’t a requirement for you to know the roles or identities of other parties in the conspiracy.
Virginia Code 18.2-22 classifies the criminal offense of conspiracy to commit a felony into two categories: conspiracy to commit a capital felony and conspiracy to commit a non-capital felony. Capital felonies are punishable by either death or life imprisonment. They are normally referred to as ‘class 1 felonies.’ Some examples of capital felonies include murder and treason. On the other hand, non-capital felonies fall into classes 2 – 6. They may range from extremely violent and heinous crimes, such as bank robbery and armed burglary to wobblers, such as identify theft and smuggling cigarettes.
What the Prosecutor Must Prove for you to be Convicted for Conspiracy to Commit a Felony
The burden of proof in any Virginia criminal trial is on the prosecution, and the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. For you to be convicted for the criminal offense of conspiracy to commit a felony, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:
- You agreed with two or more individuals to commit a felony
- There was an overt act to advance or further the agreement
- This act was carried out in Virginia
Here is a brief discussion of these elements:
1. Agreement to Commit a Felony
The prosecutor must adduce sufficient evidence to show that you had agreed with two or more individuals to commit a felony. It isn’t necessary for this agreement to be formal or detailed. Even an implied or oral agreement is sufficient enough for you to receive a conviction. Moreover, the jury can infer from the conduct of the defendant that there had been a mutual agreement to commit an offense.
You would not be convicted under code 18.2-22 if you had agreed to commit a misdemeanor, infraction, or any other unlawful act which isn’t categorized as a felony. Virginia has six different felony classes, and you should have agreed to be involved in the commission of one of them.
2. Overt Act
The prosecution must show that one of the parties to the agreement committed an overt act. The term ‘overt act’ refers to any action whose primary purpose is to assist in the accomplishment or advancement of the felony that is to be committed.
According to Virginia’s conspiracy laws, an overt act should be carried out after the accused person has agreed to commit a felony. This act should complement the plan to commit a felony.
The overt act doesn't need to be unlawful or criminal. Simple activities, such as buying a weapon or renting a car, can qualify as overt acts.
3. Carried out in Virginia
The overt act should be committed within the state of Virginia. If it was committed out-of-state, you might be granted an acquittal or a dismissal. As a general rule, Virginia courts do not have jurisdiction over criminal offenses that are committed out-of-state, unless under unique circumstances.
Legal Defenses to Conspiracy to Commit a Felony
You can raise several legal defenses to challenge conspiracy charges. Some of them include:
- No agreement
- No overt act
Let us discuss each of these defenses:
1. No Agreement
There is always room to show that there was no agreement if the prosecutor doesn’t have sufficient evidence to demonstrate that there was. You can convince the court that you hadn’t agreed to commit a felony, or you were opposed to the views of the group about committing an offense. This way, you will increase the chances of an acquittal or a dismissal.
The court will not convict you for conspiracy to commit a felony if you had withdrawn from the agreement. However, you must have communicated to the other members of the conspiracy about your withdrawal before the commission of the overt act. You cannot utilize this defense if you withdrew after the overt act was committed.
3. No Overt Act
Recall that the prosecutor must prove that one or more members of the conspiracy committed an overt act. Just a plan isn’t sufficient for you to become convicted. Therefore, you can defend yourself by showing that no one in the conspiracy plan committed an overt act.
The Penalties for Conspiracy to Commit a Felony
There are no fixed penalties for conspiracy to commit a felony. The punishments for this offense vary depending on the specific type of felony you had agreed to execute.
If you had planned to execute a capital offense, you would be sentenced to a state prison term of a maximum of twenty years. The court can also order you to pay a fine of up to $100,000. On the other hand, a conviction for conspiracy to commit a non-capital felony will result in a prison sentence not exceeding ten years. Alternatively, you may be ordered to serve a 12-month jail term, or pay a fine not exceeding $2500.
Generally, the length of the imprisonment term is determined by the felony you had planned to commit. For instance, if you had conspired to commit a bank robbery, the maximum sentence you will receive is a 20-year imprisonment term. On the contrary, if you had planned to smuggle cigarettes, you will be sentenced to an imprisonment term of 1 – 5 years. But, the punishments for conspiracy are usually lower than those imposed for the commission of the actual offenses.
Certain aggravating factors can increase your sentence. Some of these factors include the nature of the overt act, how long you were involved in the conspiracy, and what your role could have been when the plan would have been executed.
Immigration Consequences upon Conviction for Conspiracy to Commit a Felony
If you are a non-citizen and you have been convicted for conspiracy to commit a felony, you are bound to face several immigration consequences. According to the US Immigration Law, certain convictions may make a foreign citizen be deported or become marked as ‘inadmissible.’
Categories of ‘inadmissible’ or ‘deportable’ crimes include aggravated felonies and crimes of moral turpitude. If you had agreed to execute a felony that falls into these categories, you might be deported or declared inadmissible upon conviction.
Is it Possible to Expunge the Charge of Conspiracy to Commit a Felony?
Yes, you can expunge the charge of conspiracy to commit a felony, but under minimal circumstances. When you have a criminal history, it may be difficult for you to access opportunities such as jobs, scholarships, and university admissions. You may even find it challenging to do what most people usually take for granted, including renting an apartment or obtaining a professional license.
Virginia has very restrictive laws on expungement, and you should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney to ascertain whether you qualify for it. If you expunge your charges, your criminal record will not be visible to the general public, including employers and landlords. Moreover, you will be able to state without fear of perjury that you do not have a criminal record.
You will qualify for an expungement if you receive an acquittal or a dismissal of your charges. In some situations, you can obtain an expungement if there is sufficient proof that another person committed the offense while utilizing your name or identification documents, and you have received an absolute pardon.
For you to receive an expungement, you will be required to institute a petition at the courthouse where your case was heard. A copy of this petition should also be served to a Commonwealth Attorney or a police station within the locality of the courthouse. Then, the court will convene an expungement hearing. Note that you cannot obtain an expungement if you were convicted.
Will I Lose my Gun Rights upon Conviction for Conspiracy to Commit a Felony?
You may lose your gun rights upon conviction for conspiracy to commit a felony. According to Virginia’s criminal laws, individuals who have been convicted for felonies are not permitted to possess or acquire firearms.
As per Virginia Code 18.2-22, the offense of conspiracy to commit a felony can be categorized as either a class 3 felony or a class 5 felony, depending on the nature of the crime that the defendant had agreed to commit. Due to its felonious nature, you will be stripped off your gun rights if you become convicted for it.
Federal Charges for Conspiracy to Commit a Felony
You may be charged with the offense of conspiracy to commit a felony under Federal law. This is because the term ‘conspiracy to commit a felony’ covers a wide range of criminal acts, which are prohibited by Federal law.
It is challenging to defend a federal conspiracy charge. If you have been charged with conspiracy to commit a felony under Federal law, you must hire an attorney who can diligently investigate the Federal’s government evidence against you and who is well-versed with how Federal prosecutors work.
For you to be charged under Federal law, you must have agreed with another person or group to commit a Federal crime. The primary law that highlights how an individual can be charged with conspiracy to commit a felony under Federal Law is United States Code 371. This law criminalizes conspiracies to defraud the Government and conspiracies to infringe Federal law provisions.
There are other Federal law provisions that state that it is unlawful to agree with another person to commit a felony. For instance, there is United States Code 1951, which criminalizes conspiracy to commit a robbery, and the criminal offense of robbery is categorized as a felony.
The Government has a high tendency of abusing conspiracy charges. Even if you were just a minor participant in a plot to commit a felony, you could still be charged with conspiracy.
Conspiracy to Commit a Felony and Related Offenses
The following are other conspiracy criminal offenses in Virginia:
- Conspiring, committing, aiding and abetting terrorism acts
- Conspiracy to commit larceny or trespass
- Conspiracy to commit a crime under the Drug Control Act
Here is a brief discussion of each of them:
1. Conspiring, Committing, Aiding and Abetting Terrorism Acts
According to Virginia Code 18.2-46.5, it is unlawful to commit, conspire to, aid, or abet the commission of a terrorism act. Also, it is a criminal act to invite, solicit, or encourage another person to commit a terrorism act. This law also criminalizes the act of providing material support to organizations and groups whose sole objective is to further terrorist acts.
If you have been charged under code 18.2-46.5, you risk facing an imprisonment term of a maximum of twenty years upon conviction. Just like code 18.2-22, code 18.2-46.5 can attract Federal charges too.
2. Conspiracy to Commit Larceny or Trespass
If you conspire to commit larceny or trespass, you will be charged under Virginia Code 18.2-23. According to this code, it is a criminal act to conspire with another person to enter or remain on the premises of another person without his/her permission, and with the knowledge that there is a prohibition not to do so. Moreover, it is also unlawful to conspire with someone else or to aid, abet, or counsel another person to perform larceny. The term ‘larceny’ is also commonly referred to as theft.
This offense is categorized as a class 3 misdemeanor. Its punishment is fine, which does not exceed $500. However, if you had conspired to commit both trespass and larceny and the value of the goods involved was or exceeded $500, you will be sentenced to an imprisonment term of a minimum of one year and a maximum of twenty years.
Code 18-2-23 also states that the willful concealment of the items that an individual had planned to steal qualifies as an overt act. Notably, this offense can only be charged in a courthouse within the area where it was committed.
3. Conspiracy to Commit a Crime under the Drug Control Act
Virginia Code 18.2-256 highlights the offense of conspiracy to commit a crime under the Drug Control Act. Some examples of crimes that are prohibited under the Drug Control Act include possession of marijuana, cultivation of marijuana, sale and distribution of narcotics, manufacture of controlled substances, as well as deceitfully and purposefully defeating alcohol or drug screening tests.
The punishment for this offense varies with the specific type of drug crime you had intended to commit. The penalty you will receive upon conviction will be equal to, but slightly less than, to what you would receive if you become convicted for the actual offense.
Find a Fairfax Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
We at the Virginia Criminal Attorney are always willing to provide you expert advice if you or your loved one is facing criminal charges. We are the go-to law firm if you are looking for a diligent attorney within Fairfax and Northern Virginia who has your best interests at heart. Call us today at 703-718-5533 for a free case evaluation if you are facing charges for conspiracy to commit a felony.