Criminal Law and the Chancery

This round of the crisis will not merely incorporate civil claims. There will be criminal charges, including, apparently, charges of criminal conspiracy. Conspiracy law is extremely expansive--some would say much too expansive. A low-level drug runner in a big drug cartel can be charged with misdeeds of everyone else, provided those misdeeds were acts in furtherance of the conspiracy. Why do that? Well, conspiracy law offers two things to prosecutors--a way to put pressure on lower level criminals to "flip" in exchange for reduced charges, and a very flexible statute of limitations. The conspiracy continues until the plan it embodies were fulfilled--and if the plan includes actively keeping the crime secret, well, the conspiracy can continue for a long, long time after the actual crime.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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