Conspiracy and shared intentions

Lynndie England’s guilty plea for a charge of conspiracy has been thrown out because her alleged co-conspirator said that he thought their actions were legal.

He intended to perform an act which he believed was not criminal, therefore he couldn’t have been conspiring, therefore England couldn’t have been conspiring with herself.

This runs contrary to my rather limited understanding of the law. Can one person’s guilt be ruled out because of the mistaken opinion of one’s fellow defendant? If so, ignorance of the law is no defense unless your partner is the ignorant one.

It seems to me that England intended to do something which she has at some point believed to be illegal, and she intended to cooperate with someone else in order to accomplish it. If she believed it was illegal at the time she conspired to do it, that would be enough, in my amateur opinion, to make her guilty of conspiracy.

I know that military justice does not necessarily follow the same rules and precedents of civilian criminal law, but if conspiracy requires that at least one other person intends to do something they believe is a crime, then perhaps other offenses should be held to the same standard.

Can a pedophile be found guilty of trying to get a teenager to meet for sex if there was never a teenager involved? What if there was actually a teenager involved, but the teen’s intent was something other than sex — say, conspiring with a friend to rob the pedophile’s house while the liaison was supposed to be happening?

Is anyone else’s sense of legal principles at odds with the idea that a person can be found not guilty of doing something that would ordinarily be criminal, solely because someone else didn’t know it was illegal?

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Conspiracy and shared intentions

  1. papertygre

    That particular article you linked to seemed to leave out information that other articles had. Here is one much longer: http://msnbc.msn.com/ID/7734657/ (There are lots available though — the issue seems to be on the front page of Google News right now.)

    It looks like (1) England’s guilty plea was intended to get her a shorter prison term (that is a “plea deal” or “plea bargain”) but (2) testimony by others involved in the scandal seems to suggest that despite what she claimed when entering the plea (evidently untruthfully), she actually didn’t know, at the time, that what she was told to do was abusive (and that is required for a guilty verdict under military law). Also (3), she plead guilty on only seven of nine charges, and only one of the guilty charges was thrown out, so it’s not like she’s off the hook; the trial is going on to a higher court.

  2. papertygre

    this CNN article seems even better — slightly shorter and more interesting. Actually it seems her guilty pleas to all 7 counts were thrown out and she may or may not have the charges refiled against her now. It’s pretty sad if she’s gone through all this public humiliation if it turns out she is just a little slow and was following orders from an authority figure who also knocked her up and then married someone else for good measure.

  3. sylvar

    Indeed. So does the abrupt change in tone from j-school to slang in “Graner was also busted from a rank of specialist following his conviction” strike you as odd too?

  4. sylvar

    I still can’t believe she thought either this or thiswas “a legitimate technique”, though. Perhaps I’m naive about the need to remove people from their comfort zone when they’re being held for interrogation.

  5. papertygre

    The first picture seems consistent with the news articles — looping a leash around a prisoner’s shoulders is apparently a legitimate way to control a prisoner when taking him or her out of a cell, and in this one case, when the leash slipped up to the neck, photos were taken as instructional aids about how to deal with that situation. Consistent with the articles’ description, she doesn’t look like she’s having fun or participating in anything really, she’s just standing there bewildered holding a leash.

    The second one, though… what the hell is going on? Is that a pigpile?

  6. sylvar

    To some people it’s just a pyramid. “Don’t cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year? Is that torture?”

    If I’d known that cheerleaders’ pyramids were performed naked, I’d have gone to a lot more football games in high school.

  7. papertygre

    I tried to figure out if “bust” was some special jargon for being demoted but according to this it is, in fact, slang.

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