Conspiracy to commit a crime sounds like it should require secret meetings and widespread collaboration. In reality, most conspiracy charges come in any case where two or more people worked together to commit a crime. In many cases, conspiracy appears as a separate count in your criminal case, such that you can face one count of a crime for committing the crime or attempting to commit the crime, as well as an extra count for conspiracy to commit the crime.
In New Jersey, there are specific elements that must be met to be convicted of conspiracy charges. The Atlantic City conspiracy defense lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain how these charges work. If you or a loved one is facing conspiracy charges, contact our law offices today to schedule a free consultation. Our number is (609) 625-3006.
When Can You Be Charged with Criminal Conspiracy in New Jersey?
Criminal conspiracy’s definition is always tainted because of things like conspiracy theories, where people expect large groups to be controlling the actions behind crime. In actuality, most conspiracy charges deal with a simple agreement to work together to commit a crime. There is no serious planning necessary for a conspiracy charge, and the mere fact that two or more people agreed to work together to commit a crime is often sufficient.
Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:5-2, conspiracy is defined as an agreement to commit a crime. Under this definition, the parties can agree that only one of them will commit the crime, or they will agree to help each other. In any case, this means that merely agreeing to commit a crime fulfills the definition; there is no requirement that the crime must be completed for conspiracy charges. This means you can actually be charged with conspiracy even if you never got far enough along to attempt the crime.
The Statute of Limitations on Conspiracy Charges in NJ
Nearly all crimes are subject to a “statute of limitations,” which dictates how long the government has to charge you with a crime. Most criminal charges in New Jersey must be filed within 5 years of the crime taking place. If the crime is a disorderly persons offense, then the government has only one year to file charges.
Conspiracies are considered part of a “continuing course of conduct.” This means that the crime does not “end” until the crime is committed or:
- The parties abandon the conspiracy,
- There is no “overt act” toward committing the crime within the statute of limitations period, and
- The party abandoning the conspiracy either informs the rest of the co-conspirators or tells police about the conspiracy and their involvement.
This means that many conspiracies are ongoing crimes. If the crime never ends, then the 5-year statute of limitations never actually begins to run, and charges can come at any time. If the conspiracy does end, then the government’s time limit kicks in, and they cannot wait too long to charge you with the offense.
Defenses to Conspiracy to Commit a Crime
To prove you committed a conspiracy offense, the government must prove that you acted with someone else to commit a crime. Criminal conspiracy requires more than simply asking someone to commit a crime with you; there must be some “overt act” in furtherance of the crime. An overt act can involve things like “casing” a bank, drawing up plans, buying ski masks, or practicing driving a getaway route. These overt acts may be short of criminal attempt, but they can still justify conspiracy charges. However, if there is no overt act, they cannot convict you of conspiracy for merely discussing the crime.
You can also quit a conspiracy in two different ways. First is abandonment, as discussed above. If you leave the conspiracy, your part in the conspiracy ends. However, you can still be charged with conspiracy for anything you did before abandoning the conspiracy, and the rest of your co-conspirators can continue to commit conspiracy offenses without you. Second is renunciation. This is stronger than abandonment and involves taking steps to stop or sabotage the conspiracy. If you quit the conspiracy and take steps to stop the crime from going forward, you may be able to avoid charges.
Many of these defenses will not apply if a crime has already been committed. If you conspired to commit multiple crimes or committed an attempted crime as part of your conspiracy, abandoning or renouncing the conspiracy cannot save you from those charges. For instance, if you and your co-conspirators walk into a bank with loaded guns, but then leave before firing a shot, you may have already committed attempted robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery, so you cannot avoid conspiracy or attempt charges by leaving the conspiracy.
Atlantic City Criminal Conspiracy Attorneys Offering Free Consultations
If you or a loved one was charged with conspiracy to commit a crime, you may face serious penalties and potential jail time, even if you did not actually go through with the crime. Most conspiracy charges carry the same penalties as if you committed the crime, which can mean high fines and jail time. Many of these cases can become complicated, especially if co-conspirators turn the blame on you or if the government tries you together in the same trial. For help with these complex legal issues, contact the Atlantic City criminal conspiracy defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych today. Our phone number is (609) 625-3006.