Zimmerman: Conspiracy and Coconspirator Liability for Crimes Committed by a Member of the Conspiracy

October 16, 2012

Lonnie Starr has been discussing the possibility of others being involved with George Zimmerman in a conspiracy to detain and possibly kill a suspected residential burglar.

Here is a brief discussion of general conspiracy law and the potential liability of coconspirators for a murder committed by a member of the conspiracy.

A conspiracy is an agreement by two or more people to commit a specific crime.

Assuming for the sake of argument that there was a conspiracy, liability would depend on the purpose of the conspiracy.

If it were to kill, then the appropriate charge would be conspiracy to commit murder and all members of the conspiracy would be charged with that offense as well as the murder itself.

If it were to detain a suspect for arrest by a police officer, conspiracy to commit murder would not be an appropriate charge.

However, if the objective of the conspiracy were a crime, which it would be if it were to detain someone because that would be an assault, battery and possibly an involuntary detention or a kidnapping, and a killing were a reasonably foreseeable consequence, as would be the case if the plan included the use of a gun to detain a person, then all of the coconspirators could be held responsible for the murder.

The legal rule is coconspirators can be held responsible for the crimes committed by other members of the conspiracy in furtherance of the conspiracy, even if they did not know about those crimes and never consented to them, so long as the crimes were a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the conspiracy.

Therefore, if other people were involved with George Zimmerman in a conspiracy to detain suspected burglars for arrest by police officers and they knew he was armed with a gun and intended to use it, they could be charged and convicted of murder as coconspirators, even though they did not specifically intend that outcome.

If this were the case, the prosecution would have considerable power to obtain cooperation from identified coconspirators against George Zimmerman in exchange for light sentences.

At this point, however, I am not aware of sufficient evidence to charge anyone with conspiracy, despite hints that Zimmerman did not act alone.

Keep this article in mind as the case progresses.

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