California “Conspiracy” Laws – Penal Code 182(a)(1) PC

June 30, 2020

In California, conspiracy is charged under penal code 182(a)(1) pc. Conspiracy is defined as an agreement between two or more people to commit any crime coupled with an overt act in furtherance.[1] Any crime includes both felonies and misdemeanors, which are defined and punishable by any law or statute within California.[2]

Conspiracy is an inchoate crime – i.e., it does not require the commission of the substantive offense that is the object of the conspiracy. For example, conspiracy to commit murder is accomplished once an overt act is done in furtherance of the agreement to commit the murder. Indeed, there is no requirement that the murder be completed for the underlying conspiracy to exist.

An overt act can be any preparatory act committed by any member that furthers the unlawful objective. For instance, a member of a bank robbery conspiracy steals a car as a getaway vehicle.

Conspiracy also carries vicarious liability for acts committed by its members even for uncontemplated acts. Take for example: both Dan and Bob conspire to rob a convenient store. In the midst of the robbery, the store clerk is accidentally shot and killed by Bob. Both Dan and Bob would be charged with homicide despite Bob being the single killer. An unforeseeable consequence is the only limitation that preclude vicarious liability for other crimes committed by a co-conspirator.

Whether you are a first-time offender or have multiple prior convictions, anyone can find themselves charged with conspiracy on very little evidence. It is often associated with large scale drug operations, robbery, burglary or other forms of home invasion crimes where a group is involved. However, a member of the conspiracy need not actually be present or participate in the commission of the substantive offense. Simply being part of a telephone conversation or a text message group thread may be sufficient to charge you with conspiracy.

Elements for a California Conspiracy

To prove a California criminal conspiracy under PC 182(a)(1), the prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You intended and agreed with another to commit a crime;
  2. At the time of the agreement, you and another member intended that some or all members would commit the targeted crime;
  3. At least one member of the conspiracy committed an overt act in furtherance of the targeted crime;
  4. At least one overt act was committed in California.[3]

Legal Defenses to Penal Code 182(a)(1)

  • Mere Association: A conspiracy cannot be established by mere association of the parties or even by some joint action.[4] Indeed, there must be some participation or interest in, or guilty knowledge of, the common unlawful design, though the parties need not comprehend its entire scope. Moreover, mere association of conspiracy members does not make you part of the conspiracy especially if you did not intend to commit the targeted crime. Additionally, even if you did some act or made a statement in furtherance of the conspiracy, that alone, is insufficient to make you a member.
  • Wharton Rule: When cooperation of two or more persons is necessary to commit a substantive crime, and there is no element of the alleged conspiracy that is not present in the substantive crime, the persons involved cannot be charged with both conspiracy to commit the substantive offense and with the substantive crime itself. In other words, the Wharton Rule bars a conviction for conspiracy to commit a crime that, by its definition, cannot be completed without two people acting together – e.g., prostitution or bigamy.
  • Specific Intent: Conspiracy is a specific intent crime, with the intent divided into two elements: the intent to agree to conspire, and the intent to commit the offense that is the object of the conspiracy.[5] The specific intent to commit the object of the conspiracy cannot be presumed from the mere commission of an unlawful act.[6]
  • Withdrawal: Withdrawal from a conspiracy requires an affirmative and bona fide rejection or repudiation from the conspiracy, communicated to its members.[7] By effectively withdrawing, you are not thereafter liable for any act of the co-conspirators committed after your withdrawal.
  • Supplier of Good or Services: You are not liable for criminal conspiracy if you supplied lawful goods or service despite being put into unlawful use. However, liability may be imposed if you knew of the illegal use of the goods or services and you intend to further that use.
  • Statute of Limitations: You can assert a statute of limitations defense for any felony that is the primary target of the conspiracy. The statute of limitations period begins when the last over act was committed in furtherance of the conspiracy. However, if the underlying offense was successful, then the statute of limitations begins to run at the time of the substantive offense.[8]
  • California Law Violation: The object of a conspiracy must be to commit a crime in violation of California law. If you agreed to participate in conduct that is not prohibited by California, like the federal crime of alien smuggling, then there is no conspiracy.[9]
  • Mistake of Law: Ordinarily, mistake of law is not a defense. However, it can be a defense to a conspiracy charge if you held an honest belief that the conduct engaged in was lawful.[10] This defense has no requirement that your honest good-faith belief must be reasonable.

Sentencing & Punishment for PC 182(a)(1)


PC 182 is punishable to the extent that the underlying felony carries. For instance, conspiracy to commit grand theft will be punishable up to three (3) years in jail or conspiracy to convey a criminal threat will carry up to four (4) years in state prison.

Conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor offense is as a wobbler. This means the prosecutor is allowed to charge someone with either a felony or misdemeanor. The prosecutor will consider your prior criminal history, severity of the current offense, and whether significant planning or sophistication was involved.

What are Examples of California Conspiracy?

  • Dan and Bill agree to rob the local bank in the morning. The following day, they get into Dan’s car and begin driving to the bank. Moments later, Bill and Dan had a sudden change of heart and decided to call it off. Despite Bill and Dan not actually robbing the bank, nonetheless, a conspiracy was formed the moment the overt act of driving to the bank was done.
  • Beth and Darla agree to steal clothes from a department store. Darla draws the attention of the store patrons and staff by faking a heart attack meanwhile Beth places clothing items into her purse.
  • Al discovers that his wife is having an affair. He solicits Chris to go with him to kill his wife’s lover. Thereafter, Chris purchases a firearm from a local gun store. In this case, both Al and Chris would be liable for criminal conspiracy. The overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy occurred the moment Chris purchased the firearm.

Related Offenses to Conspiracy

Contact Us to Schedule a Free Consultation

If you are under investigation or have been charged with conspiracy under penal code 182(a)(1), then contact the Law Offices of John D. Rogers to schedule a free consultation. Early intervention by an experienced Newport Beach criminal defense attorney can mean the difference of a prison sentence or having your case rejected altogether. Our experience extends to both the state and federal level. Give us a call to set up a free consultation about your rights and defenses.




Legal Footnotes

[1] Penal Code 182(a)(1) provides that a defendant is guilty “[I]f two or more persons conspire to commit a crime.”

[2] See People v. Malotee (1956) 46 Cal.2d 59, 292 (conspiracy applies to misdemeanors defined by city ordinance as well as those defined by statute); See also People v. Saugstad (1962) 203 Cal.App.2d 536 (conspiracy applies to submit false records in violation of the motor vehicle code).

[3] See CALCRIM No. 415 – Conspiracy.

[4] People v. Manson (1976) 61 Cal. App. 3d 102, 126; People v. Drolet (1973) 30 Cal. App. 3d 207, 218; see CALJIC Nos. 6.13 (association alone does not prove membership in conspiracy), 6.22 (5th ed. 1988 bound vol.) (case must be considered as to each defendant); but see In re Nathaniel C. (1991) 228 Cal.App.3d 990, 999 (mere association may provide starting point in case in which defendant knowingly associated with members of gang involved in existing conspiracy).

[5] People v. Croy (1985) 41 Cal.3d 1, 23; People v. Backus (1979) 23 Cal.3d 360, 390; see CALJIC No. 6.10 (7th ed. 2003 bound vol.). While the intent requirement of conspiracy is two-pronged, the two intents are intertwined. For example, the essence of conspiracy to obtain property by false promises or pretenses is the common and prearranged fraudulent intent, at the very time the promises are made, not to perform. Thus, when only one party has the requisite intent, there is no conspiracy. People v. Ashley (1954) 42 Cal.2d 246, 265. See People v. Prevost (1998) 60 Cal.App.4th 1382 (conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, sell, or advertise cable television signal decoder boxes without the authorization of a franchised or licensed cable television system is a general intent crime under Penal Code § 593d(b)).

[6] See People v. Marsh (1962) 58 Cal. 2d 732, 743.

[7] See People v. Beaumaster (1971) 17 Cal.App.3d 996, 1003-1004.

[8] See People v. Zamora (1976) 18 Cal.3d 538, 560.

[9] See People v. Zacarias (2007) 157 Cal.App.4th 652 [holding that the term “any crime” in the conspiracy statute was limited to crimes create by California law].

[10] See People v. Urziceanu (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 747 [holding that the evidence at trial warranted the court’s sua sponte duty to instruct on mistake of law to conspiracy change based on the Compassionate Use Act].

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