Pennsylvania Conspiracy Lawyer

Conspiracy is a complex criminal doctrine that is difficult to understand. Klopp Law understands criminal conspiracy charges and has defended individuals in Pennsylvania against conspiracy charges.

Conspiracy charges involve an agreement to commit an illegal act. Even if the illegal act is never completed, the individuals involved can be charged with conspiracy when there is evidence of an agreement, planning, and an overt act in furtherance of the objective of the conspiracy. Even if an individual took no part in the actual commission of the illegal act, they can still be found guilty of conspiracy.

Understanding Conspiracy Charges

The Basic Elements of a Conspiracy Charge
To prove a conspiracy charge, the prosecution must prove every element of conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt.

The intent element of a conspiracy charge refers to the mental state of the defendant.  The defendant must not only agree to participate but must show intent to achieve or complete the outcome of the conspiracy.  

This element of a conspiracy charge means that the prosecution needs to demonstrate that the defendants agreed to participate in the alleged conspiracy.  This does not need to be a formal spoken acceptance of the plan to commit the underlying crime.  The court can imply that agreement took place merely from the circumstances, i.e. members of the conspiracy meeting and planning the crime.  

An Overt Act
The conspiracy does not have to be completed to satisfy this element. The only requirement to satisfy this element is that some action in furtherance of the conspiracy is taken by a member of the conspiracy. Planning a crime but never acting on it does not meet the overt act requirement, so a defendant cannot be convicted based on planning alone. 

Pennsylvania Conspiracy Law

Every state has its own conspiracy statute. Under 18 Pa.C.S. Section 903 “[a] person is guilty of conspiracy with another person or persons to commit a crime if with the intent of promoting or facilitating its commission he:

agrees with such other person or persons that they or one or more of them will engage in conduct which constitutes such crime or an attempt or solicitation to commit such crime; or

(2) agrees to aid such other person or persons in the planning or commission of such crime or of an attempt or solicitation to commit such crime.”

In Commonwealth v. Johns, 131 A.3d 107 (Pa. Super. 2015), the defendant Michael Johns, a policeman, appealed his conviction at trial for conspiracy to deliver heroin. Johns claimed that his girlfriend was the actual criminal and that he merely went along and provided transportation. The court determined “[t]he presence of the following circumstances may furnish a web of evidence linking an accused to an alleged conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt when viewed in conjunction with each other and in the context in which they occurred”

“(1) an association between alleged conspirators; (2) knowledge of the commission of the crime; (3) presence at the scene of the crime; and (4) in some situations, participation in the object of the conspiracy.

Because Johns knew about the plan to deliver heroin, and provided transportation he was still part of the conspiracy to deliver the heroin, even though he did not participate in the actual purchase and sale of the heroin.

Defenses to Conspiracy

Renunciation – if a member of a conspiracy has a change of heart and then acts to thwart the success of the conspiracy, this can serve as a defense to conspiracy charge. The renunciation must be complete and voluntary. Merely walking away from the conspirators or the plan is not enough – the conspirator must take action that would prevent the conspiracy from being completed, such as informing the police or preventing the plan from taking place.

Lack of Agreement – if the defense can prove in court that there was no actual agreement to take part in the conspiracy then the defendant cannot be convicted of conspiracy.

No Intent to Commit Crime – if two people talked hypothetically about a crime but the defendant never had any intent to actually participate in such a crime and the defense can prove this in court, it can create reasonable doubt against a conspiracy conviction.

No Overt Act – if the defense can prove in court that no overt act towards the success of the conspiracy ever took place, then the prosecution cannot meet its burden to convict. At least one of the members of the conspiracy must have moved forward with the conspiracy in some clear manner in order for the prosecution to prove their case.

Coercion – Participation in the conspiracy must be voluntary. If a person was forced or somehow put under duress to partake in a conspiracy, then the prosecution has not met its burden to prove intent.

Conspiracy Sentencing Guidelines in Pennsylvania

Effective January 1, 2024, Pennsylvania adopted new sentencing guidelines.

Sentencing for conspiracy varies depending on the underlying offense, whether the object of the conspiracy was completed, the quantity of drugs if drugs are involved, the defendant’s criminal record, and a variety of other factors.

The sentencing guidelines for conspiracy are the same as the underlying offense when the crime is completed. For example, if a person is convicted of Conspiracy to Possess Cocaine With the Intent to Deliver and the quantity involved is between at least 50 but less than 100 grams, for a first time offender the offense gravity score is 16, which has a guideline sentence of 24 to <30 months to 7 years in state prison.

However, for Inchoate Conspiracy, meaning the that the object of the conspiracy (the illegal act) was not completed, then the offense gravity score for a first time offense of Conspiracy to Possess Cocaine With the Intent to Deliver, when the quantity involved is between at least 50 but less than 100 grams, the offense gravity score is 13, which has a guideline sentence of 12-18 months to 7 years in state prison.

If you are facing conspiracy charges, it is important that you have an attorney evaluate your case. Klopp Law can determine the strengths and weaknesses of the conspiracy case against you, whether there are any affirmative defenses that can be raised, and vigorously represent you in court. Contact us for a free and confidential consultation.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation.

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