In criminal law, it is not always necessary to actually complete a crime in order to face prosecution. Being part of a conspiracy to break the law, or even a failed attempt to do so, exposes the accused to incarceration, fines and so on, just as if the crime had actually taken place.

In a sense, conspiracy and attempt crimes are really an attempt to punish a person’s thoughts. They focus on the intent to commit a crime, rather than whether the crime actually happens.

Conspiracy is a tool widely used by prosecutors, especially in drug cases, to snag as many people as they can into their net. Simply put, a criminal conspiracy is an agreement between at least two people to commit nearly any crime. To prove conspiracy, prosecutors must also show that the alleged conspirators took some action toward completing the intended crime.

Even a small step can be used as evidence of conspiracy. For example, imagine two people tell each other they are going to rob a bank, and one of them later visits the bank to examine the layout and security measures. Even if no further actions are taken, both people might be vulnerable to arrest on conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

Attempt crimes are similar, but do not require more than one perpetrator. Legally, an attempt occurs when an individual has “specific intent” to commit a crime — that is, when he or she intends to commit an act, and wishes for the consequences that will ensue. The second element is a direct action toward completion of the crime. Again, proving the defendant’s intentions are often the key to whether someone charged with an attempted crime is found guilty or not.

Though a crime may not have been completed in either case, or you might have played a very small role in the crime, a charge of conspiracy or attempt requires a tough defense attorney to advocate for you.