Brief Fact Summary.
Defendant worked for the incumbent’s campaign and paid people who showed him a vote sticker and for people who brought others to vote. Defendant was charged and convicted of conspiracy to commit election bribery. Defendant appealed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. Defendant argued that the conspiracy was a legal impossibility, because the coconspirators were undercover officers who could not lawfully vote in the election.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A defendant may be convicted of conspiracy even though the object of the conspiracy is legally impossible to fulfill.
State election law in Wisconsin makes it illegal for any person to offer or give anything of value to induce a voter to go to the polls. During an election in Milwaukee, an election official noticed a flyer advertising an ongoing election party on behalf of the incumbent that offered free food and drinks to any early voter who showed a vote sticker at the door. Concerned that the flyer promoted a violation of the state election law, the election official notified the city attorney. An undercover operation was organized using undercover agents ineligible to vote in the district where the election took place. On two occasions, undercover agents attended the election party and met with Garrett Huff (Defendant). Defendant, who worked for the incumbent’s campaign, offered to escort two of the agents to city hall to vote. After the agents showed Defendant a vote sticker, Defendant gave the agents $5 each. Defendant also gave a third agent $5 for bringing people to vote.
Whether a defendant may be convicted of conspiracy even though the object of the conspiracy is legally impossible to fulfill.
Yes. Defendant’s conviction is affirmed. A defendant may be convicted of conspiracy even though the object of the conspiracy is legally impossible to fulfill.
Under the Wisconsin conspiracy statute, a person who intends to commit a crime and who agrees or combines with another person for the purpose of committing a crime may be convicted of conspiracy if at least one person takes action to fulfill the object of the conspiracy. Thus, Wisconsin law makes both bilateral and unilateral conspiracies illegal. A bilateral conspiracy requires that two or more persons actually agree to commit a crime. A unilateral conspiracy does not require actual agreement between two or more persons. Thus, for example, an individual may commit conspiracy though the alleged co-conspirators have no intention, or are unable, to commit the crime. The crime of unilateral conspiracy punishes those who intend to fulfill the object of the conspiracy, whether fulfillment is highly unlikely or where, as here, fulfillment is legally impossible. In this case, Defendantwas charged with conspiring with undercover agents to commit election bribery. The bribery was legally impossible to fulfill. The agents had no intention of committing the crime and were not eligible to vote in the election. Although this is a case of first impression in Wisconsin, other courts have held that a prosecutable conspiracy may exist even if the crime that is the object of the conspiracy never occurs.