A drug mule might be the most common example of a criminal conspirator who knows almost nothing about the conspiracy itself. Others include people who use cash to buy prepaid debit cards and don’t know that cash is drug money, or lookouts during armed robberies. Legal activities, like buying a gun or a ski mask, could also lead to O.C.G.A. §16-4-8 charges.
Note that in all these examples the defendant isn’t privy to all the details of the criminal conspiracy. In several cases, they don’t even know there’s a conspiracy. So, when officers knock on the door with a search or arrest warrant, they often have no idea why. Oral and written contracts require a meeting of the minds. The parties must know all the details and intend to form an agreement based on those details. But meeting of the minds isn’t an element of a Georgia conspiracy case. More on that below.
As mentioned, conspiracy charges often blindside defendants. Law enforcement usually hopes that shock and awe factor disorients defendants and prompts them to quickly make unfavorable plea bargain arrangements. But because the elements are so straightforward, many law enforcement officers are overaggressive and take reckless chances. If that happens, a Marietta criminal defense lawyer has a much better chance to successfully resolve these charges.
Arrest and Pretrial Detention
Suspicious activities often draw law enforcement attention. An officer asks Michelle what’s in the back of her pickup and she says she doesn’t know or is evasive. Or, Michelle buys a prepaid debit card with several thousand dollars in cash, mostly in small bills. Based on such facts, a judge could issue a search or arrest warrant.
A trip downtown is usually the next step. Frequently, officers vaguely promise leniency if the defendant gives up Mr. Big, or at least the person on the next rung of the ladder.
Don’t believe these promises. The partnership between police officers and prosecutors is like a Marvel Team-Up from the 1970s and 1980s. Spiderman and Iron Man might work together to catch a supervillain, but the heroes aren’t on the same team. Likewise, police and prosecutors have a common enemy, but they aren’t on the same team.
Nevertheless, cooperation could be a good idea, if a Marietta criminal defense lawyer intervenes and obtains a formal immunity agreement.
Immunity isn’t always a good option, for one reason or another. Furthermore, Michelle often doesn’t know who gave her the money or who loaded the truck. In these situations, officers almost always make arrests.
Once again, arrests have a substantial shock and awe factor. Prompt jail release mitigates the shock and awe. If a Marietta criminal defense attorney is already involved in the case, OR (own recognizance) release is usually an option in conspiracy cases. Drug mules, debit card purchasers, and other such individuals usually aren’t a threat to anyone and aren’t likely to flee the jurisdiction. So, if they follow jail release conditions, like showing up in court, they walk free until their trials.
Elements of the Offense
Agreement and overt act are the two primary elements of a conspiracy charge. As mentioned, the “agreement” is not a meeting of the minds. However, the agreement must be voluntary. The overt act must “effect the object of the conspiracy.” Walking out the front door, walking into Walmart, and taking a prepaid debit card to the cash register are all overt acts. But they don’t affect the object of the conspiracy. If anything, these overt acts are evidence of withdrawal, one of the most effective defenses in conspiracy prosecutions.
Almost all conspiracy cases are felony conspiracy matters. Prosecutors very rarely expend resources on misdemeanor conspiracy cases. The maximum punishment is one-half of the underlying offense. A conspiracy to entice a child under 16 means a maximum fifteen years in prison.
Conspiracy charges could hold up in court even if no crime was committed. Let’s go back to the child enticement example. If the “girl” was an undercover police officer, the actor as well as any conspirators could face substantial penalties.
No agreement is a possible conspiracy defense. But since the requirements are so low in this area, as mentioned above, this defense rarely succeeds.
Withdrawal is a better defense. Halting participation could be evidence of withdrawal. However, people get cold feet a lot and then decide to go through with it. Approaching law enforcement investigators or an “I won’t do this” text message are stronger evidence of withdrawal.
A Marietta criminal defense lawyer often needs direct evidence to prove withdrawal. But a prosecutor only needs circumstantial evidence to prove a conspiracy.
Criminal defenses don’t have to be strong enough to “beat” the case. They only must be strong enough to give prosecutors second thoughts about their chances at trial. Circumstantial evidence of withdrawal might not hold up in court, but then again, it might. Juror reactions are impossible to predict in criminal or civil cases.
If prosecutors aren’t as confident about their cases, they’re more willing to offer favorable deals, such as pretrial diversion or deferred disposition.
Pretrial diversion programs vary in different courts. Usually, if the defendant stays out of trouble for a few months and completes some other requirements, like a community service requirement, prosecutors dismiss the charges. Deferred disposition is just like probation in most respects. However, if the defendant successfully completes probation, the judge dismisses the case.
In both situations, the arrest record remains on the books. However, these defendants don’t have convictions on their permanent records. Some pilots say that any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. Likewise, any non-conviction result is a good result, at least in most cases.
If authorities charge you with criminal conspiracy, keep your head. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Convenient payment plans are available.