The definition of “Conspiracy” and the elements for committing the crime are found at 18 PACS 903. Generally speaking, you may be guilty of the crime of Conspiracy if you agree with another person to plan to commit a crime, to commit a crime, or solicit someone else to commit a crime. Also, you must make an overt act toward that commission or solicitation. Conspiracy is graded at the same grade and degree as the most serious offense which is attempted or solicited or is an object of the conspiracy. So, if you conspire with someone to murder an individual, and you are found guilty of conspiracy, your conspiracy charge will be graded the same as the murder. One other key point to conspiracy is that you may be found guilty of all other crimes committed by any fellow conspirator while the conspiracy is in effect.
I bring all this to your attention in order to better understand new developments in the Pennsylvania Conspiracy law just handed down by the Pennsylvania Superior Court in July of 2011. The case is Comm. v. Poland. The key issue is whether the Defendant, Mr. Poland, was guilty of conspiracy for aggravated assault when a fight broke out near a Pennsylvania train station. Poland was part of a group of individuals standing in the train station mourning the death of a friend. The victim of the assault walked past the group and was attacked by half of the group while the other half cheered on the assault. Poland was charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, as well as a number of other crimes. At trial, he argued that he was not part of the attack on the victim and that the attack was spontaneous and not a conspiracy. Ultimately, the jury found him guilty of conspiracy to commit aggravated assault.
On appeal, Poland raised the same arguments. Unfortunately, the Superior Court did not find in his favor. According to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, it did not matter whether Poland was involved in the actual attack or whether Poland was part of the cheering group. The Pennsylvania Superior Court stated that Poland was part of a group that participated in the beating of an individual and fled the scene as a group. This unity of criminal purpose was sufficient for a jury to find a conspiracy.
This opinion is important in helping to define what constitutes a Conspiracy. The Pennsylvania Statute does not define when a conspiracy starts. Under this recent Pennsylvania Superior Court opinion, it is clear that a mere association with a group acting a one unit is enough. In other words, a conspiracy can begin a split second before the crime takes place. Additionally, Courts in the future will not just look at what happens before a crime in determining whether a Conspiracy existed, but will also be concerned with what happens after the commission of the crime. This opinion makes it easier for you to be convicted of a Conspiracy.
If you would like more information, or need representation for your Conspiracy charges, give me a call at 412-209-0657.