A criminal conspiracy is a plan or action between two or more people that is illegal or involves a legal act committed in an illegal way. The precise definition of a conspiracy typically depends on the laws of different countries, and some nations do not recognize a conspiracy as a specific type of criminal act. In general, however, a conspiracy involves two or more people who commit or plan a crime, and at least one of them takes some type of action toward committing the crime. A criminal conspiracy charge can often be used by prosecutors in the UK and the US to ensure that multiple people responsible for a crime are charged together.
There are generally two distinct and important elements necessary to establish that some type of criminal conspiracy has been formed. The first element is that two or more people must come together to form the conspiracy. This does not require secrecy — three people meeting openly and stating a desire to commit a crime can potentially constitute a conspiracy. At least one of the people must then either commit the crime or take steps toward the commission of the crime. For example, if three people gathered and planned to kill a person, and then one of them purchased three guns for them to use, this could be sufficient justification for a criminal conspiracy charge.
This allows prosecutors to establish a criminal conspiracy for attempted crimes and the active planning of crimes. Some effort must be made toward the commission of the crime, however, so a group of people simply discussing committing a crime but in no way making an effort to actually do it are not part of a criminal conspiracy. If one of those people then goes out and commits the crime, however, even without the knowledge of the others he or she discussed it with, they may all then be able to be charged as part of a criminal conspiracy.
A criminal conspiracy can even extend to those who may be involved with the commission of a crime after the fact, even if they had no prior knowledge of the crime. This means that if someone kills a person, and someone else helps him or her hide the crime, they are both part of a conspiracy and can be prosecuted accordingly. In some areas, there are exceptions made to the formation of a conspiracy, such as the spouse of someone who commits a crime, people under the legal age of consent, and those who end up as victims of the crime committed by the conspiracy. Conspiracy laws often help prosecutors since a confession made by any one person within a conspiracy can effectively be used in prosecuting other members of the conspiracy.