Most criminal lawyers who have significant jury trial experience will tell you that criminal cases that include conspiracy counts are frequently some of the most challenging to defend. A solid understanding of the law as it pertains to a conspiracy is frequently helpful to clients as it enables them to understand the nature of the defense, the types of evidence that will be admissible against them at trial and most importantly, the extent of their potential criminal liability.
Conspiracy charges have been a challenge for criminal lawyers for hundreds of years. The crime has its origins in a number of criminal statutes passed in the reign of Edward I. In 1305 Parliament laid the groundwork for the doctrine of conspiracy liability. The foundational rule was then established which essentially holds that the gist of conspiracy is the illegal agreement and that the illegal agreement is subject to criminal sanction even if its purpose was not achieved.
Two Significant Conspiracy Prosecutorial Advantages
Conspiracy charges today are prevalent and brought whenever a prosecutor has an arguable basis to assert the existence of a criminal conspiracy. Experienced criminal lawyers realize that a conspiracy charge immediately provides the prosecution with certain unique advantages which other theories of criminal liability simply do not provide.
Admission of Hearsay
Criminal lawyers recognize that perhaps the most potent weapon a conspiracy charge provides to the prosecution is the ability to admit enormous amounts of evidence that would otherwise be ruled inadmissible as hearsay. Hearsay is an out-of-court assertion offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. In other words, a witness can only testify to what he or she perceived and has personal knowledge of, not what some other person else stated who is not present and not available to be cross-examined. The general rule in criminal prosecutions is that hearsay is inadmissible. The rule is riddled with a number of exceptions of which perhaps the largest and most frequently utilized is the co-conspirator hearsay exception.
The exception requires the prosecutor who seeks to introduce the hearsay evidence to show that by a preponderance of the evidence that the hearsay statement was made by a co-conspirator during and in furtherance of the conspiracy. In the event the prosecutor can make that threshold showing, the statement will be admitted against all members of the conspiracy. For criminal lawyers defending these types of charges, the significance of this type of evidence cannot be overstated. It bears repeating: once properly admitted the statements of a particular conspirator will be attributed to all co-conspirators and treated as though they were the co-conspirator’s own statement for purposes of determining criminal liability. Criminal lawyers understand that the effect of this rule can be devastating. Even when a particular conspirator does not himself make any incriminating statements the sum total of other co-conspirators incriminating statements can be held against him and result in overwhelming evidence of guilt.
Joint Trial of Co-Conspirators
Often criminal lawyers fight joint trials tooth and nail. There are sometimes good reasons to go to trial with co-defendants. More often than not, however, joint trials present additional challenges for the defense. A criminal defendant charged with conspiracy is almost always tried jointly with his alleged co-conspirators. Experienced criminal lawyers realize that a joint trial with co-conspirators means that peremptory challenges generally have to be shared, fights between co-defendants as to jury instructions are common, and being lumped in with other co-defendants who may appear unsavory can have an extremely prejudicial effect.
Basic Components of Conspiracy
In federal court, for conspiracy liability to attach there must be an agreement to commit a criminal act; there must be the intent to accomplish the criminal purpose of the conspiracy; and finally, at least one of the members of the conspiracy must perform an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. Think of conspiracy as a type of criminal partnership. It is not necessary that the conspirators make a formal agreement or that they agree on all the details, rather that the conspirators met, discussed and agreed to pursue the illegal purpose. In other words, it must be proven that the conspirators agreed to commit at least one of the crimes listed in the charging document. Criminal lawyers whose clients understand these basics are often richly rewarded in the form of client insights that assist in the preparation of the defense.
Conspiracy Under Nevada Law
Experienced criminal lawyers in Las Vegas understand the crime of conspiracy under Nevada law is markedly different in one very significant way. Nevada Revised Statute 199.490 explicitly states that the prosecution does not bear the burden of proving an overt act for criminal liability to attach for the crime of conspiracy. In considering this specific issue the Nevada Supreme Court has clearly held that for conspiracy liability to attach, no overt act is necessary. In Nevada, the criminal agreement is the crime. The crime is complete when the agreement between two or more co-conspirators is made. Nothing else beyond the agreement to commit the illegal act is necessary. By disposing of with the overt act requirement Nevada has made a significant departure from federal law. This results in the imposition of criminal liability literally instantaneously upon the making of an illicit agreement.
Defending Conspiracy Charges in Las Vegas
Criminal lawyers in Las Vegas who frequently defend cases involving conspiracy charges understand the problems these types of allegations present both in federal and state court. Defending conspiracy cases requires a thorough understanding of all the permutations of the doctrine of criminal conspiracy. There exist a number of decisions pertaining to conspiracy both in the federal and state systems that criminal lawyers must be aware and be able to apply. Conspiracy law is one of the more complex areas of criminal law. Having a criminal defense lawyer who has substantial experience and a proven track record of success defending conspiracy cases is non-negotiable if one is serious about avoiding a lengthy term of incarceration. The criminal lawyers at Oronoz & Ericsson have significant experience successfully defending conspiracy charges in both federal and state court. If you find yourself facing conspiracy charges in Las Vegas, call the criminal defense lawyers at Oronoz & Ericsson. We are happy to sit down with you and discuss the nature of the case against you and your options. Don’t wait. Call immediately. We can help.