Conspiracy “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “conspiracy” are taken from Ballantine’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (6th edition), Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition), and “Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:”




An agreement between two or more persons to accomplish together a criminal or unlawful act or to achieve by criminal or unlawful means an act not in itself criminal or unlawful [17 Am J2d Conp § 1]. Conspiracy is a criminal offense, a misdemeanor in some jurisdictions, a felony in others [16 Am J2d Conp § § 2, 3]. Conspiracy is also a wrong which will constitute at cause for a civil action [16 Am J2d Consp § 43]. The cause of action is the damage suffered. It is the civil wrong resulting in damage, and not the conspiracy which constitutes the cause of action [Mox, Inc. v Woods. 202 Cal 675, 262 P 302].



  1. An agreement between two or more persons to do an unlawful act, or an act which may become by the combination injurious to others. Formerly this offence was much more circumscribed in its meaning than it is now. Lord Coke describes it as “a consultation or agreement between two or more to appeal or indict an innocent person falsely and maliciously, whom accordingly they cause to be indicted or appealed and afterwards the party is acquitted by the verdict of twelve men.”

  2. The crime of conspiracy, according to its modern interpretation, may be of two kinds, Namely, conspiracies against the public, or such as endanger the public health, violate public morals, insult public justice, destroy the public peace, or affect public trade or business [see 3 Burr. 1321].

  3. To remedy these evils the guilty persons may be indicted in the name of the commonwealth. Conspiracies against individuals are such as have a tendency to injure them in their persons, reputation, or property. The remedy in these cases is either by indictment or by a civil action.

  4. In order to reader the offence complete, there is no occasion that any act should be done in pursuance of the unlawful agreement entered into between the parties, or that any one should have been defrauded or injured by it. The conspiracy is the gust of the crane [2 Mass. R. 337; Id. 538 6 Mass. R. 74; 2 S. & R. 220 4 Wend. R. 259; Halst. R. 293 2 Stew. Rep. 360; 5 Harr. & John. 317 8 S. & R. 420, but see 10 Verm. 353].

  5. By the laws of the United States [St. 1825, c. 76, 23, 3 Story’s L. U. S., 2006] a wilful and corrupt conspiracy to cast away, burn or otherwise destroy any ship or vessel with intent to injure any underwriter thereon, or the goods on board thereof, or any lender of money on such vessel, on bottomry or respondentia, is, by the laws of the United States, made felony, and the offender punishable by fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars, and by imprisonment and confinement at hard labor, not exceeding ten years.

  6. By the Revised Statutes of New York [vol. 2, p. 691, 692], it is enacted, that if any two or more persons shall conspire, either to commit any offence, or falsely and maliciously to indict another for any offence; or, falsely to move or maintain any suit; or, to cheat and defraud any person of any property, by any means which are in themselves criminal; or, to cheat and defraud any person of any property, by means which, if executed, would amount to a cheat, or to obtaining property by false pretences; or, to commit any act injurious to the public health, to public morals, or to trade and commerce, or for the perversion or obstruction of justice, or the due administration of the laws; they shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor. No other conspiracies are there punishable criminally. And no agreement, except to commit a felony upon the person of another, or to commit arson or burglary, shall be deemed a conspiracy, unless some act besides such agreement be done to effect the object thereof, by one or more of the parties to such agreement.

  7. When a felony has been committed in pursuance of a conspiracy, the latter, which is only a misdemeanor, is merged in the former; but when a misdemeanor only has been committed in pursuance of such conspiracy, the two crimes being of equal degree, there can be no legal technical merger [4 Wend. R. 265. Vide 1 Hawk. 444 to 454; 3 Chit. Cr. Law, 1138 to 1193 3 Inst. 143 Com. Dig. Justices of the Peace, B 107; Burn’s Justice, Conspiracy; Williams’ Justice, Conspiracy; 4 Chit. Blacks. 92; Dick. Justice Conspiracy, Bac. Ab. Actions on the Case, G 2 Russ. on Cr. 553 to 574 2 Mass. 329 Id. 536 5 Mass. 106 2 D R. 205; Whart. Dig. Conspiracy; 3 Serg. & Rawle, 220; 7 Serg. & Rawle, 469 4 Halst. R. 293; 5 Harr. & Johns. 317 4 Wend. 229; 2 Stew. R. 360; 1 Saund. 230, u. 4; for the French law, see Merl. Re. Mot Conspirational Code penal, art. 89].



In criminal law, a combination or confederacy between two or more persons formed for the purpose of committing, by their joint efforts, some unlawful or criminal act, or some act which is innocent in itself, but becomes unlawful when done by the concerted action of the conspirators, or for the purpose of using criminal or unlawful means to the commission of an act not in itself unlawful [Pettibone v. US, 148 US 197, 13 Sup. Ct. 542, 37 L. Ed. 419; State v. Slutx, 106 La. 182, 30 South. 298; Wright v. US, 108 Fed. 805, 48 CCA 37; US v. Benson, 70 Fed. 591, 17 CCA 293; Girdner v. Walker, 1 Heisk. (Tenn.) 186; Boutwell v. Marr, 71 Vt. 1, 42 Atl. 607, 43 LRA 803, 76 Am. St. Rep. 746; US v. Weber (CC) 114 Fed 950; Comm. v. Hunt, 4 Metc. (Mass.) 111, 38 Am. Dec. 346; Erdman v. Mitchell, 207 Pa. 79, 56 Atl. 327, 63 LRA 534, 99 Am. St. Rep. 783; Standard Oil Co. v. Doyle, 118 Ky. 662, 82 SW 271, 111 Am. St. Re. 331].

  • Conspiracy is a consultation or agreement between two or more persons, either falsely to accuse another of a crime punishable by law; or wrongfully to injure or prejudice a third person, or any body of men, in any manner; or to commit any offense punishable by law; or to do any act with intent to prevent the course of justice; or to effect a legal purpose with a corrupt intent, or by improper means [Hawk. P. C. c. 72 § 2; Archb. Crim. Pl. 390], adding also combinations by journeymen to raise wage [State v. Murphy, 6 Ala. 765, 41 Am. Dec. 79].

  • Civil and criminal: the term “civil” is used to designate a conspiracy which will furnish ground for a civil action, as where, in carrying out the design of the conspirators, overt acts are done causing legal damage, the person injured has a right of action. It is said that the gist of civil conspiracy is the injury or damage. While criminal conspiracy does not require such overt acts, yet so far as the rights and remedies are concerned, all criminal conspiracies are embraced within the civil conspiracy [Brown v. Pharmacy Co., 115 Ga. 429, 41 SE 553, 57 LRA 547, 90 Am. St. Rep. 126].



CONSPIRACY, n. [L. See Conspire.]

1. A combination of men for an evil purpose; an agreement between two or more persons, to commit some crime in concert; particularly, a combination to commit treason, or excite sedition or insurrection against the government of a state; a plot; as a conspiracy against the life of a king; a conspiracy against the government.
More than forty had made this conspiracy. Acts 23.
2. In law, an agreement between two or more persons, falsely and maliciously to indict, or procure to be indicted, an innocent person of felony.
3. A concurrence; a general tendency of two or more causes to one event.
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