Unfortunately for those accused of crimes, criminal conspiracy is one of the easier crimes to charge and prove under South Carolina law. By statute, a criminal conspiracy is defined as the “combination between two or more persons for the purpose of accomplishing a criminal or unlawful object or an object neither criminal nor unlawful by criminal or unlawful means.” See S. Car. Code § 16-17-410.
The main reason that conspiracy is relatively “easy” for the prosecutors to charge and prove is that the existence of a conspiracy can be proven without proof of (i) an express agreement or (ii) of acts taken in furtherance of the conspiracy. If you are charged with a criminal conspiracy in Greenville or anywhere else in South Carolina, you need to retain experienced and skilled criminal defense attorneys like those at The Law Office of H. Chase Harbin.
Criminal Conspiracy Legal Principles and Case Examples
Under South Carolina law, there is really only one element necessary to prove the conspiracy: the “agreement.” However, it is useful to speak in terms of three sub-elements:
- Two or more persons
- With an agreement or understanding
- To achieve a criminal/unlawful object or to use a criminal/unlawful means
Once the agreement/understanding is reached, the crime has been committed and no further acts in furtherance of the conspiracy are needed. As one court phrased it: “The gist of the crime is the unlawful combination. The crime is then complete …” Lee v. Chesterfield General Hospital, Inc., 344 SE 2d 379 (S. Car. App. 1986). Any acts taken in furtherance of the conspiracy are considered to be evidence of the existence of the conspiracy, its object, and scope.
A case that illustrates the legal principles is State v. Buckmon, 555 SE 2d 402 (S. Car. Supreme Court 2001). That case involved the murder of an employee of a Chinese restaurant. The victim was found in her car with a gunshot wound to her chest.
The defendant — Buckmon — was charged with murder, attempted robbery and with criminal conspiracy. There was no direct evidence of Buckmon’s involvement. The key pieces of circumstantial evidence were these:
- Buckmon and the two alleged co-conspirators were together at an apartment on the night of the murder
- Buckmon and the two others left together at around 10:00 p.m. and went in the direction of the China Express restaurant
- A witness testified that three people were seen running in the direction of the restaurant at about 10:00 p.m.
- One witness (Temetrius) who drove the three conspirators around on the night in question said that “they” discussed “getting some cheese” — meaning money — in front of Temetrius; “they” included Buckmon
- Another witness (Walker) testified that, while at the apartment, “they” talked about “getting a lick” — meaning doing a robbery — in front of Walker; they included Buckmon
Based on this evidence, Buckmon was convicted on all three counts. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the convictions for murder and attempted robbery. The Court stated that none of the evidence presented by the State placed appellant at the scene of the crime and the evidence merely raised a suspicion of guilt with respect to the murder and attempted robbery charges. However, the evidence was sufficient to support the charge of criminal conspiracy.
Call The Law Office Of H. Chase Harbin Today
If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, call the experienced SC criminal defense attorneys at The Law Office of H. Chase Harbin. Contact our office today via email or by telephone. We have offices in Greenville and Pickens, South Carolina.
Chase Harbin is a Criminal Defense Lawyer who practices in Pickens and Greenville, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 17 years now. Chase Harbin believes in defending the accused. Learn more about his experience by clicking here.