Under NRS 199.480, Nevada law defines a criminal conspiracy as a scenario where two or more people make an agreement to violate the law. Conspiring to commit a crime is illegal even if the intended crime never actually takes place, and even if the conspirators make no overt act towards committing the crime. Merely agreeing to break the law is prosecutable as a conspiracy.
- Two friends agreeing to shoplift.
- Spouses agreeing to burn their car for insurance money.
- A gang agreeing to shoot up a rival gang.
Nevada case law states:
Violating NRS 199.480 is either a class B felony or gross misdemeanor. It depends on the underlying offense. When defendants attempt or complete the underlying offense, they face charges for both conspiracy and the underlying offense or attempt.
Three ways to fight conspiracy charges are to argue that:
- There was no agreement;
- The agreement was lawful; or
- The police committed an illegal search.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is the legal definition of conspiracy in Nevada?
- 2. What are the penalties under NRS 199.480?
- 3. What are common defenses?
Conspiracy is when at least two people agree to violate the law. Conspiracy is illegal whether or not the co-conspirators carry out – or try to carry out – the agreed-upon crime.2
A conspiracy requires more than one person. But defendants can be convicted of conspiracy even if the other co-conspirators are not being prosecuted.3
Example: Jed, Thomas, and Harry conspire to rob a bank in Henderson. The police catch wind of this and arrest Jed. Thomas and Harry flee the country. The D.A. can still prosecute Jed for conspiracy even though his co-conspirators are gone.
Many conspiracies involve plans to commit more than one crime. But the alleged co-conspirators can be charged with only one count of conspiracy unless the intended crimes were part of separate agreements.4
Example: Molly and Teal want to get back at their ex-roommate. They conspire to assault her and steal her purse. Assault and theft and two separate crimes. But since they were part of the same agreement, Molly and Teal face only count of conspiracy.
Conspiracy participants are still liable even if they play a more minor role than others. However, the extent of their participation may factor in during sentencing.5
1.1. Federal law
Federal law defines conspiracy differently from Nevada. In federal court, prosecutors have to show both:
- The defendant agreed with at least one other person to commit a crime, and
- The defendant acted in pursuance of the agreement
Nevada conspiracy law does not require that the defendant commit an overt act in furtherance of the intended crime. Just making an agreement to break the law is sufficient grounds for a conspiracy conviction.
Therefore it is easier to be convicted on state conspiracy charges, which does not require an overt act, than on federal conspiracy charges, which does.6
Learn more about the federal offense of conspiracy.
Conspiracy in Nevada is either a:
- Category B felony, or
- Gross misdemeanor
It depends on the crime the defendant was conspiring to commit:
|Murder (NRS 200.030)||Category B felony:|
|Racketeering (NRS 207.400)||Category B felony:|
|Robbery (NRS 200.380)|
Kidnapping (NRS 200.310) in the first- or second-degree
Arson (NRS 205.010, -.015) in the first- or second-degree
Facilitating sex trafficking (NRS 201.301)
|Category B felony:|
|All other crimes||Gross misdemeanor:|
(Unless the crime statute specifies a different penalty for conspiracy)7
Conspiracy to commit a crime and the completed crime are separate offenses. Defendants can get convicted of both.8
Example: Spouses Irene and Bob agree to burn their neighbor’s house in Nevada. They throw a lit match into the window and burn it. If caught, they each face two charges: 1) Conspiracy to commit arson, and 2) Arson.
If Irene and Bob in the above example threw the match but did not succeed in burning the house, they would instead face charges for: 1) Conspiracy to commit arson, and 2) Attempted arson.
Conspiracy can be a difficult charge for prosecutors to prove. Especially if there is no physical evidence of any agreement. The following are three defenses for conspiracy allegations:
- There was no agreement. It is not conspiracy merely to have knowledge of an agreement to commit a crime or to discuss an agreement to commit a crime. Unless the D.A. can demonstrate that the defendant actually entered into an agreement to commit a crime, criminal conspiracy charges should not stand.
- The agreement was lawful. Agreements are perfectly legal unless they involve a crime. If there is insufficient evidence that the defendant agreed to break the law, the court should drop any conspiracy charges.
- The evidence is inadmissible. A defense attorney can attempt to have state evidence “thrown out” by arguing that the police found the evidence through an illegal search and seizure. If the court agrees and grants the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence, then the state may be left with too weak a case to continue.
It is not a conspiracy defense that the defendant’s co-conspirator was an undercover police officer. But if the police entrapped the defendant into making an agreement he or she was not predisposed to, then the D.A. should drop the conspiracy case.
In California? Learn about California conspiracy laws (PC 182).
In Colorado? Learn about Colorado conspiracy laws (CRS 18-2-201).
- Nunnery v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, 124 Nev. 477, 186 P.3d 886 (2008).
- NRS 199.480.
- Same; see Johnson v. Sheriff, Clark County, 91 Nev. 161, 532 P.2d 1037 (1975).
- See same.
- See same.
- 18 U.S.C. § 371; United States v. Pascacio-Rodriguez, 749 F.3d 353 (5th Cir. Tex. 2014); Isbell v. State, 97 Nev. 222, 626 P.2d 1274 (1981).
- See NRS 199.480; for example, second or subsequent convictions of conspiracy to commit elder abuse (NRS 200.5099) is a category B felony carrying 2 to 20 years in prison under NRS 200.50995.
- See same.