Conspiracy charges are some of the least understood criminal offenses on the books in Pennsylvania. Some people are shocked to learn that they could face criminal penalties for conspiracy when they did not even participate in the underlying offense.
A recent situation in Philadelphia highlights how conspiracy charges can implicate minor characters in a criminal endeavor.
Purse Snatched and Bystander Attacked
Police in Philadelphia are investigating a situation that happened in the Fitler Square neighborhood of the city on June 20.
Based on the initial reports of the scene, a woman's purse was snatched by someone who then ran away.
A bystander intervened, chasing the thief in an attempt to recover the purse. However, four other people jumped in to stop the bystander. They punched and kicked him and then ran off.
The Two Separate Offenses
Let's assume that everything in the news article is true. This would mean there were two different offenses that occurred:
- A theft, when the person took the purse, and
- An assault, when the four others attacked the bystander who came to help.
If these offenses happened independently, there would not be much to talk about. However, the context of the situation and conspiracy law could tie them together and lead to overlapping criminal charges.
How Conspiracy Charges Could Tie the Offenses Together
The critical detail from the incident is that the four people attacked someone who was trying to prevent the purse-snatcher from getting away. On the one hand, this could lead prosecutors towards charging the four people with both assaults and aiding and abetting an assault.
On the other hand, it could also allow prosecutors to charge the four with conspiracy to commit the robbery, even though they never touched the purse.
Conspiracy involves an agreement between people to commit a crime, plus an overt act to further that crime's commission. The agreement does not have to be spoken, or even explicit. All that is really needed is conduct that suggests there was an intent to commit the underlying offense.
In this case, prosecutors could try to prove that assaulting the person who tried to prevent the theft of the woman's purse amounted to conspiracy to commit that theft. If the prosecutors choose to take this path, it would create an interesting result: The four people who committed the assault would face assault charges, as well as charges for aiding and abetting the theft and conspiracy to commit the theft. Meanwhile, the person who actually took the purse would only face a single charge for theft.
Joseph D. Lento: Criminal Defense in Philadelphia
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia who strives to legally represent those who have been accused of committing a crime in the city. With his help and legal guidance, you can invoke your rights and raise the legal defenses necessary to protect your interests and preserve your future from the consequences of a serious criminal conviction.
Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353 if you have been arrested and need help.