An article in the New York Times raises the question of how organized a group has to be before its members can be tried on conspiracy charges. The article focuses on the case of Jaquan Layne, who is being tried on second-degree conspiracy charges, along with 4 others who are being tried on first-degree conspiracy charges (for which they could potentially receive life in prison). The question that makes this case complicated, is not whether the defendants were selling drugs or being violent (because recordings of their phone conversations show that they certainly were), but whether their organization was structured enough to be considered a “gang”.
Mr. Rothman, the defense lawyer, argues that the group was not a structured drug trafficking operation, but was rather just a few friends” from the block”, and their phone conversations were not conspiracies, but were rather just boastful hot air. On the other hand, prosecutors argue that the a gang is any structured criminal organization, and the group that was led by Layne fits that description as it was a violent, drug-trafficking enterprise that defended what it defined as its “turf”.
The district attorney’s office is interested on prosecuting the men on conspiracy charges rather than just drug dealing or gun possession charges because, although conspiracy charges are difficult to prove, they allow prosecutors to bring down multiple defendants at once and wipe out entire pockets of crime. To prove the conspiracy charges, the DA’s office must prove that the defendants agreed to commit a crime and took steps to do so. Prosecutors are planning to use recorded conversations between the defendants to show the extent to which their operation was premeditated and structured.