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New York Court Discusses the Crime of Conspiracy, Reversing Defendant’s Conviction

New York criminal lawyers understand that a conspiracy to commit a crime requires that the defendant agree with one or more other person to commit the crime.  Earlier this month, New York’s highest court issued a written opinion in a New York criminal case involving allegations that the defendant was guilty of committing conspiracy in the second degree. The case required the court to review the defendant’s actions leading up to the crime and determine if they constituted a conspiracy and tested the minimum limits of acceptable proof to establish a New York conspiracy. Finding that the defendant’s mere presence at the scene of gang meet-ups was insufficient to establish a conspiracy to commit a crime, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction.

ArsonConspiracy in New York Courts

In New York, when more than one person work together to commit a crime, they can each be held individually liable for the ultimate result. Thus, even if someone has only a minor role in the planning or execution of a crime, that defendant can be punished as though he committed the crime on his own.

Article 105 of the New York Laws discusses conspiratorial liability. The degree of conspiracy depends on the seriousness of the underlying crime. For example, the statute describing second-degree conspiracy can be broken down as follows. A person is guilty of conspiracy in the second degree when:

  • With intent that conduct constituting a class A felony be performed,
  • He agrees with one or more persons to engage in or cause the performance of such conduct.

The Facts of the Case

The prosecution’s case against the defendant consisted solely of evidence that the defendant was present at gang meetings while other gang members discussed how they would commit a crime. The alleged crime was a “firebombing” of a former gang member’s home. Evidently, the former member left the gang after it was discovered that he was dating someone from a rival gang. There was no evidence that the defendant joined in any of the conversations in which the crime was planned, only that he was present while others were planning the crime. There was also evidence that the defendant participated in a prior attack on the former gang member.

The defendant was charged with second-degree conspiracy because the underlying offense was a Class A Felony. He was convicted at trial and then filed an appeal. On his initial appeal, he was successful in getting the conviction reversed. The prosecution then appealed to the New York Court of Appeals.

The New York Court of Appeals agreed with the intermediate appellate court that the defendant’s conviction could not stand under these facts. The court explained that “the core of the conspiracy is the element of agreement, which will be found where there is a ‘concrete and unambiguous…expression of each actor’s intent to violate the law.’”

Here, the court noted that the prosecution’s evidence showed only that the defendant was present at the meeting where the crimes were discussed. Given that the defendant did not plan or carry out the attacks, the court was not willing to “equate his passive act of ‘being present’ with the affirmative act of ‘agreeing’ to engage in a criminal conspiracy.” Thus, the defendant’s conviction was properly reversed by the appellate court below.

Have You Been Charged with Criminal Conspiracy?

If you have recently been charged with or convicted of criminal conspiracy in New York, you should contact the dedicated New York criminal defense attorneys at the law firm of Tilem & Associates. At Tilem & Associates, we have a dedicated team of criminal defense attorneys with decades of experience defending individuals charged with a wide range of crimes. To learn more about how we can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 877-377-8666 today.

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