A conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to do an illegal act. Depending on the circumstances, conspiracies can violate New Jersey law, or federal law, or both. The volume of laws that define conspiracies, and conspiracy prosecutions, is staggering. This page provides a basic orientation. It does not provide detailed discussion of conspiracy's intricacies and nuances. Persons charged with, or who may be charged with, conspiracy should discuss their situation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
New Jersey Conspiracies:
The New Jersey conspiracy statute is N.J.S. 2C:5-2. Under the common law, commission of the conspiracy required that one or more parties to the conspiracy commit an overt act to further the plan. N.J.S. 2C:5-2 continues that requirement, but with exceptions. One of the exceptions is that no overt act is required when the object of the conspiracy is a crime of the first or second degree. Another exception is that no overt act is required when the object of the of the conspiracy is to distribute, or to possess with intent to distribute, a controlled dangerous substance, or a controlled dangerous substance analog. New Jersey conspiracies are limited to agreements to commit a crime. N.J.S. 2C:5-2 does not prohibit agreements to commit disorderly persons offenses.
The general federal conspiracy statute is 18 U.S.C. 371. That statute defines conspiracy as the agreement of two or more persons to commit an offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any federal agency. Unlike some of the offenses in its New Jersey counterpart, the general federal conspiracy statute does require an overt act. It makes no exceptions to that requirement for any particular category of crime.
In addition to the general federal conspiracy statute just described, other federal statutes define conspiracies that relate to specific situations. For example, 18 U.S.C. 2384 defines seditious conspiracy. Seditious conspiracies are agreements to overthrow the government, or to thwart enforcement of federal laws by use of force. And 18 U.S.C. 2340A(c) prohibits conspiracies to commit the crime of torture outside of the United States. Some other federal conspiracy statutes are conspiracy to commit arson, 18 U.S.C. 81; conspiracy to assassinate particular federal officials, including “major candidates” for President or Vice President, 18 U.S.C. 351; conspiracy to commit arson or to carry an explosive to commit a felony, 18 U.S.C. 844(m); conspiracy to commit loansharking, 18 U.S.C. 894; and conspiracies relating to violation of federal drug crimes, 21 U.S.C. 963.
Conspiracy Prosecutions and Trials:
Conspiracy charges are very powerful weapons for New Jersey prosecutors as well as for United States Attorneys. One of the things that makes conspiracies such powerful weapons is that in trials where conspiracies are alleged, Rules of Evidence allow the prosecution to introduce hearsay testimony. “Hearsay” means statements that other persons made, outside of court. (This is a gross oversimplification.) With a number of well-defined exceptions, hearsay evidence is inadmissible in court proceedings. In conspiracy trials, however, out-of-court statements made by any of the alleged conspirators are admissible in evidence against all of the alleged coconspirators on trial.
Punishment--New Jersey Conspiracies:
Under New Jersey law, conspiracy is a crime of the first degree when the object of the conspiracy is to commit murder or terrorism, or when the object of the conspiracy is arson of a place of worship. Conspiracies are also crimes of the first degree under certain circumstances relating to organized crime. Otherwise conspiracies to commit crimes of the first degree constitute crimes of the second degree. Conspiracies to commit crimes of the second, third, and fourth degree are themselves, respectively, crimes of the second, third, and fourth degree.
Under 18 U.S.C. 371, federal conspiracy is punishable by up to five years in federal prison, and a fine. When the object of the federal conspiracy is a misdemeanor, the term of imprisonment is capped at whatever the term would have been for the offense that was the object of the conspiracy. Remember, however, that 18 U.S.C. 371 is only the general statute for federal conspiracies. Federal statutes that define specific conspiracies carry their own sentencing scheme. Punishment under these specific federal conspiracies are generally more severe than punishment under general federal conspiracy.
Conspiracy Lawyers in New Jersey:
Allan Marain and Norman Epting, Jr. are New Jersey conspiracy lawyers with combined experience of over sixty-five years. Both have successfully represented numerous clients charged with conspiracy. Both are available for a no-obligation consultation for persons charged with conspiracy, be it New Jersey or federal. They would welcome your call.