Exclusively Practicing Criminal Defense for
Two Decades
David Olshansky


Conspiracy charges could lead to anything from a minor misdemeanor to a Class X felony conviction. This charge is one of the few exceptional cases where a person can be sentenced for a year behind bars without actually committing a crime.

A number of people get charged with conspiracies who are in fact innocent bystanders. Bad luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time or even coercion can land people behind prison as suspects in a conspiracy. Lacking a good defense may even get them incarcerated for years under a conspiracy charge.

State Legislation

Conspiracy is defined in 720 ILCS 5/8. According to the legislation a person commits conspiracy when he or she agrees with another person to commit an offense. A person may be charged with conspiracy if any act is performed in furtherance of the agreement for the offense, whether by the person or a co-conspirator.


The punishment for conspiracy is dependent on the severity of the crime that was the target of the conspiracy. Usually, suspects are charged with a Class of felony that is 1 degree below the Class of the offense.

For example, pre-meditated murder is charged as a Class X felony. Conspiracy to murder someone would be charged as a Class 1 felony. In case of conviction, a Class 1 felony is punishable by 4 to 15 years in Illinois Correctional facility.

A person may be charged for conspiracy under a Class X felony in cases of aggravated insurance fraud and aggravated governmental entity insurance fraud.


Conspiracies are relatively tricky. A person could be charged for conspiracy even before a crime has been committed. In cases where a crime has been committed by a co-conspirator, a person can be charged even if they haven’t personally taken any actions in the offense.

Certain types of defenses are expressly excluded in conspiracy cases by the state. A defendant may not argue with a defense that

  • The co-conspirators have not been prosecuted or convicted.
  • The co-conspirators have been convicted for a different offense.
  • The co-conspirators are not accountable to justice.
  • The co-conspirators have been acquitted.
  • They lacked the capacity to commit the offense.

The responsibility lies on the prosecution to prove that the defendant was aware of the conspiracy to commit the offense, expressly agreed to commit the offense and had the intention of playing his or her role in the conspiracy.

In order to be charged for conspiracy, at least one of the people involved in the plan must have carried out an act to make the crime happen.

For example, if two people agree to rob a bank, they cannot be arrested for simply having talked about it in a meeting. If one of them proceeds to purchase firearms or burglary tools for the robbery then both of them may be charged for the conspiracy to commit a burglary.

Calculated Criminal Drug Conspiracy

It would be relevant to point out the Criminal Drug Conspiracy charge in Illinois. While conspiracy to commit an ordinary crime like burglary or gambling is serious enough, the charges can be taken to a whole new level where drugs are involved.

In order to be charged for criminal drug conspiracy, the prosecution must prove that the person was in possession of controlled substances, part of a conspiracy to grow, deliver or facilitate illegal activity involving drugs or obtained anything of value greater than $500 for the illegal activity.

Criminal drug conspiracy is a Class X felony in cases where the amount of drugs involved is higher than a quantity specified by the state.

Examples and Court Cases

Two suspects were recently charged with conspiracy in Chicago for importing a fentanyl analogue from China. Hazel Crest and Sanchez Lackland were accused of having imported the substance in 2017 through mail.

Both of them face additional charges for possession of controlled substances and firearms.

In another case a man named Aguado-Cuevas was arrested from his home in Champaign-Urbana for criminal drug conspiracy, possession of a firearm and possession of controlled substance. The arrest was made in connection with an ongoing investigation against a student from University of Illinois who had been arrested last year with a large amount of cocaine near his campus.

It should be noted that Cuevas had not actually committed any offenses recently that warranted a search of his home. His home simply came up during the cocaine investigation and on a search of his home, police found controlled substances and a firearm.

Possible Legal Defenses

Conspiracy charges are interesting. Depending on the circumstances of the case, they are either incredibly difficult or incredibly easy to defend. The key to a successful defense is identifying and going with the right kind of defense strategy.

One possibility for defense is to argue from the point of intent. If the defendant can prove in court that he or she did not actually have the intent to commit the offense, they may be able get an acquittal.

Another avenue open for defense is to question the validity of the evidence. This can be especially useful if no crime has actually been committed. Consider the earlier example of two people being charged with planning a bank robbery, where one of them purchases a gun. The prosecution may argue that the gun was bought to facilitate the robbery; it can be argued that intent behind the gun purchase was something entirely different.

In cases where a crime has not actually taken place, the prosecution heavily relies on witness accounts. An experienced defense counsel can also bring the credibility of the witness into question which may severely weaken the prosecution’s case.

Finally, the defense may also bring the investigating or arresting officers’ conduct into question. If evidence is obtained in an unlawful manner, such as a search without warrant, the defense could request that the unlawfully acquired evidence be removed from the records.

The prosecution usually charges a person with conspiracy when they don’t have strong evidence against the defendant for actual commission of a crime. Conspiracy charges are included in the list of offenses to offset the otherwise weaker case. In the hands of an experienced defense team, conspiracy cases can be easily broken up and dismantled.