What Constitutes a Conspiracy Charge?
February 28, 2021
Article 81 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) covers the topic of conspiracy. If you have been accused of this crime, it’s important to understand what constitutes a conspiracy charge so you can begin building your defense.
Elements of Conspiracy
Conspiracy is a serious crime with potentially long-term ramifications. The UCMJ recognizes two elements of a conspiracy:
- The accused enters into an agreement with one or more co-conspirators to commit an offense under the UCMJ. This is considered particularly egregious if committed under the law of war.
- While the agreement continues to exist and the accused remains a party to it, the accused or one of the co-conspirators performs an overt act to bring about the conspiracy’s objective. If this act results in one or more deaths, a conviction could carry a higher penalty.
Things to Consider in Conspiracy Cases
If you have been accused of conspiracy while serving in the Armed Forces, you should meet with an experienced military lawyer to discuss the complexities of your case. Still, understanding the following considerations regarding military conspiracy can help you see the bigger picture.
- Co-conspirators: It’s not necessary to name all co-conspirators in a conspiracy case. There is also no requirement for all co-conspirators to be subject to military law. If a new member joins the agreement, this new conspirator can only be convicted if an overt act is committed to further the conspiracy’s objective.
- Conspiracy agreement: The agreement needn’t be formal, nor must it express how the conspiracy is to be carried out or what part each conspirator is to play. It is sufficient for the prosecution to prove that each party has a shared understanding about accomplishing the conspiracy’s objective.
- Overt act: An overt act may be committed when an agreement is made or at a later time. Whatever catalyzes the conspiracy needn’t be criminal in nature to be considered an “overt act.” However, for a conviction to occur, the prosecution must prove that the co-conspirators did more than merely come to an agreement—they put the conspiracy into motion.
- Degree of proof: It isn’t necessary to prove that the alleged conspired offense actually occurred. However, proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required to show that the accused entered into an agreement with one or more co-conspirators to commit the alleged offense AND performed one or more overt acts to set the conspiracy in motion. In cases where the accused’s actions allegedly resulted in death, it’s possible to find the accused guilty of conspiracy and yet not guilty of causing death.
- Abandonment or withdrawal: In some cases, evidence may arise that the accused abandoned or withdrew from the charged conspiracy before the overt act was committed by any of the conspirators. In that case, the accused cannot be convicted of conspiracy.
Punishments for Conspiracy
In the case of conspiracy and conspiracy when an offense is an offense under the law of war (not resulting in death), the maximum punishment is whatever the UCMJ authorizes for the offense that the accused conspired to commit. However, the death penalty can only be imposed in cases of conspiracy when an offense is an offense under the law of war resulting in death.
The most common punishments for conspiracy include fines, reduction in rank, and punitive discharge from services.
Defending Yourself Against Conspiracy Charges
As a former member of the Armed Forces and ex-Army Judge Advocate, Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law possesses excellent knowledge of the UCMJ. Over his 14-year career as a military attorney, Mr. Jordan has successfully defended thousands of service members accused under Article 81. He can handle even the most complex cases and has a record of achieving desirable outcomes for men and women in uniform stationed worldwide.