The plot is not uncommon: a daring protagonist propels themselves into a monumental crime scheme and is compelled to join forces with their fellow characters to carry out a specified plan. These criminal conspiracies are frequently depicted in movies and tv shows; as the plot thickens, audiences become intrigued by the dynamics of the co-conspirators, the steps taken to execute these complex plans, and any motivations the characters have underlying the result. A recent example from the hit drama series, How to Get Away with Murder begins its first episode with four of Annalise Keating’s prized students contemplating how to get rid of a corpse. This unforgettable scene catalyzed the entire series and provided a cryptic segue into the grand conspiracy between the characters.
Annalise Keating is the admired criminal law professor at Middleton University, a bold criminal defense attorney, and the charismatic protagonist of the series. She selects and trains specific students to work alongside her high-profile cases. Annalise captivates audiences with her passionate courtroom performances and provides her group of students, the “Keating 5,” with her methodical process on how to win at trial: “Step 1: Discredit the witness, Step 2: Introduce a new suspect, and Step 3: Bury the evidence.” Her unforgettable technique is used across all six seasons, as Keating and her students become intertwined with heinous crimes or commit crimes themselves. Yet, what started as a classroom lesson turned into the show’s season-long conspiracy agreement.
The Elements of Criminal Conspiracy
Though the drama series is set in Philadelphia, PA, the crime of conspiracy is recognized in every jurisdiction. Specifically, in North Carolina, a criminal conspiracy is an agreement or plan between two or more people to commit a crime. To convict a defendant of criminal conspiracy, it must be established that: (1) the defendant and at least one other person created a plan or agreement; (2) that plan or agreement was to commit a criminal act or other unlawful conduct; and (3) the defendant and their co-conspirators had the intent to commit a crime at the time of creating the plan or agreement.
It is irrelevant whether the crime is eventually carried out because a prosecutor can still bring charges if these elements are satisfied:
- Conspiracies are considered complete even when no planned act occurs.
- Importantly, conspiracies do not have to be written down, as an oral agreement or mutual understanding of the plan is sufficient.
Establishing a Conspiracy: Direct vs. Circumstantial Evidence
Both direct and circumstantial evidence can establish conspiracies. However, if the conspiracy is proven through circumstantial evidence, there must be other evidence proving that a plan or agreement existed between the individuals. A conspiracy cannot be established by suspicion alone, and a simple relationship between the parties does not show a conspiracy. A defendant may be convicted of, and punished for, both conspiracy and the substantive offense the defendant conspired to commit. The crime of conspiracy is an entirely separate offense from the accomplishment or any attempt to accomplish the intended result. The most common types of crimes accompanying conspiracy charges include drug crimes, burglary, murder, robbery, white-collar crimes, and prostitution charges.
Annalise Keating’s three-step process, “Discredit, Introduce, Bury,” is repeatedly followed throughout the series. Annalise guides her “Keating 5” with this infamous direction, which ultimately conceals crimes such as murder and fraud. The foundation of How to Get Away with Murder is the conspiracy between the characters, starting in the first episode: each agrees to the unlawful plan involving concealing any evidence relating to the corpse, and at the outset, each intended to commit that crime. By season six, the list of subsequent conspiracies is appalling, with murder being the accompanying crime. If the “Keating 5” and Annalise resided in North Carolina, not only would they be charged with conspiracy – but any accompanying crime to the conspiracy. Conspiracies are sentenced to the penalties of lower crime classes; so, if the group conspired to commit first-degree murder, a Class A felony, the conspiracy is sentenced as a Class B2 felony. While audiences may be fascinated by the intricacies of televised conspiracies, these plans’ “real world” consequences can include jail time.
If you find yourself caught up in a criminal conspiracy, it is essential to seek the counsel of experienced criminal defense attorneys. At King Law Offices, our team of knowledgeable attorneys can help you understand your legal options and fight to protect your rights. Our attorneys have a track record of success defending clients facing criminal charges.
If you or someone you know is facing conspiracy charges in North Carolina, call King Law Offices today at (888) 748-KING to schedule a consultation. We will work tirelessly to defend your rights and help you navigate the complex legal system. Don’t wait; call us today to get started.