Monday, November 17, 2008

Court Holds Association of Persons with Honest Intent Is Not Conspiracy

The association of persons with an honest intent is not conspiracy, and one of the tests on a conspiracy trial is, did the accused act in ignorance without criminal intent? In other words, did they honestly entertain a belief that they were not committing an unlawful act?

In People v. McLaughlin the charge was a conspiracy to violate the Penal Code. The court stated:

Appellants say they are innocent because they had no criminal intent, no corrupt motive, made no agreement to commit a crime. No doctrine is more universal or of more ancient vintage in the law than that ignorance of the law excuses no one. That doctrine still strides the world. One cannot avoid conviction if his sole defense to the indictment is his ignorance of the law. The guilt of those who conspire to do an act which is prohibited by law is measured by their intent with reference to the act to be performed and not by the amount of their knowledge or ignorance of whether such acts are contrary to statute. Knowledge of the law is imputed and need not be demonstrated by proof of the state of the inner consciousness of the actor. In other words, so long as an evil design filled the heart of a conspirator he is deemed to have known the legal consequences of his act. An unlawful intent is logically inferred from the doing of an unlawful act.

The gist of the crime of conspiracy is a corrupt agreement of two or more persons to commit an offense against the state. Whether the conspiracy is a crime depends upon the intention of the accused construed in connection with the purpose contemplated. If appellants intended to violate the law and agreed to abet others in doing so their purpose was corrupt; their intent was evil. Where several persons are accused of having conspired to abet others to violate the law, the only question for the trial court's determination is whether they violated the law; not whether they had knowledge of the law violated.