Criminal Conspiracy (N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2) is the crime of planning to commit a crime. A person can be charged with Criminal Conspiracy even if the crime in question fails to take place. A NJ conspiracy charge is serious and those who are convicted face harsh consequences. It is urgent that anyone charged with Criminal Conspiracy in NJ consult with an experienced attorney to determine the best course for avoiding or mitigating the consequences.
What is Criminal Conspiracy?
N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 describes a conspiracy as follows:
A person is guilty of conspiracy with another person or persons to commit a crime if with the purpose 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
- 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.
There are four things that must be shown in order for a person to be charged with Criminal Conspiracy.
The first is that prosecutors must clearly prove what crime was being commissioned—e.g. Burglary, Murder, or Fraud.
The second is that there must be evidence of an agreement between the accused and one or more individuals.
The third is that the agreement must have involved one or more of the individuals committing or aiding in committing the crime.
The fourth is that there must be an “overt act” committed by one or more members toward the commission of the crime. This act could be the purchasing of required tools (e.g. bolt cutters) or some other action that would have facilitated the execution of the crime.
If the conspiracy is to commit a first- or second-degree crime or to Distribute Drugs, then an overt act is not required for a conviction.
Penalties and Fines
Criminal Conspiracy is charged at the same level as the crime that the defendant allegedly planned to commit. For example, if a person is charged with conspiracy to commit third-degree Burglary, then the Conspiracy charge would also be a third-degree indictable offense. The exception is first-degree crimes; conspiracy to commit a first-degree crime is charged as a second-degree crime in most instances.
The sentence for a Criminal Conspiracy conviction is as follows:
- Second-degree Criminal Conspiracy: 5 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000.
- Third-degree Criminal Conspiracy: 3 to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
- Fourth-degree Criminal Conspiracy: Up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
How to Beat a Criminal Conspiracy Charge
There are several ways a person can avoid a conviction for Criminal Conspiracy. The first is that a “preponderance of evidence” must be provided showing the accused renounced his/her participation in the crime by informing law enforcement of the existence of the conspiracy, his/her role in it, and either thwarted or attempted to thwart the commission of the crime.
Another is to show that no overt act was committed by the defendant or any other co-conspirator that would have facilitated the execution of the crime. Lastly, a person could show that he/she had terminated his/her role in the conspiracy by informing all co-conspirators of the decision to abandon the plan.
Before deciding on a defense strategy, one should first consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. The right attorney will be able to assess the facts and evidence to determine the best approach for mitigating possible consequences. In some cases, he/she may be able to get evidence suppressed (so it can’t be used in court) or argue that the arrest itself was illegal.
Those facing overwhelming evidence can have an attorney negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the charges to a lesser offense with less serious consequences.
The Difference Between Criminal Conspiracy and Criminal Attempt
Criminal Attempt (2C:5-1) is similar to Criminal Conspiracy in that it alleges that a crime was intended by an individual, but does not require that the actual crime occurred. Unlike conspiracy, Criminal Attempt does not mandate that more than one individual partake in the planning or execution of the crime.
Case Law Analysis
State v Urcinoli 321 NJ Super 519 establishes that a person can still be guilty of conspiracy even if the individual he/she has made an agreement with is a police officer or other individual who does not actually intend to fulfill his/her part in the plan. This allows informants and undercover officers to falsely claim participation in the conspiracy so as to gather evidence and confessions without the actual conspirator(s)’ knowledge.
Similarly, NJ accepts that a person can still partake in a conspiracy even if he/she is unaware of the identity of all other participants (State v. Roldan, 314 N.J. Super. 173). This is known as “chain analysis.” It means that a person can be guilty of conspiracy so long as he/she knows others are involved and that his/her role is necessary for the crime to be successful.
Consequences for Juveniles
New Jersey, like many states, handles minors (those under 18) differently from adults when it comes to criminal charges. With the exception of some serious crimes, most juvenile cases are heard in Family Court. Children and teens can be easily pressured into agreeing to go along with plans even when they do not want to or do not fully understand the ramifications.
For these reasons, it is critical that anyone whose child has been charged with Criminal Conspiracy in New Jersey speaks with an experienced NJ criminal defense attorney. The right attorney can assess the facts to determine how best to avoid a conviction and/or detention.
A strong legal defense can potentially get the charges reduced to a lesser offense. Moreover, the attorney can advocate for a sentence that would be more appropriate for the child’s situation, that would facilitate rehabilitation, and that could reduce the risk of reoffending in the future. This could include probation, counseling, community service or even job training.
Expunging a Conspiracy Conviction
New Jersey offers the opportunity for some individuals to have their records cleared if they go a certain number of years without reoffending. A person convicted of conspiracy to commit a crime in New Jersey could still be eligible to have a criminal record expunged if certain conditions are true. These include:
- He/she has not been convicted of more than one indictable offense (felony).
- He/she has not been convicted of more five disorderly persons offenses, or three disorderly persons offenses and one indictable offense.
- He/she has completed the terms of the sentence and repaid any fines.
- He/she has not been convicted of any disqualifying offenses.
When it comes to a conviction for conspiracy, the conspiracy to commit a disqualifying offense (such as murder or robbery) is itself a disqualifying offense. However, conspiracy to commit an expungeable offense (such as burglary) is an expungeable offense.
Expunging one’s criminal record is not an easy process and there is no guarantee a person will have his/her record cleared even if he/she is otherwise eligible. It is best to speak to an attorney before attempting to file a petition for expungement.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Should I Contact?
If you or a loved one faces a charge of Criminal Conspiracy or any other criminal offense in New Jersey, consult with a skilled attorney right away. The attorneys at Rosenblum Law have extensive experience helping people in many difficult situations. Email Rosenblum Law or call 888-815-3694 today for a free consultation about your case.