You were arrested, but you didn’t commit a crime. Or, at least you don’t think you committed a crime. Do you need to be worried? If so, what type of defense do you need to assert in order to avoid being convicted and potentially sentenced to jail time at trial?
Like other states, South Carolina criminalizes what is known as “inchoate” offenses. These are offenses that involve taking steps toward the commission of a substantive crime (such as drug distribution, burglary, or murder), and you can be convicted of an inchoate offense even if: (i) you do not go forward with fully committing the crime; or, (ii) you personally are not present when the crime is committed. As a result, defending against these types of charges requires more than an alibi. The potential for being charged with an inchoate offense also means that you need to be very careful to avoid making statements that seem helpful (i.e. “I changed my mind and didn’t go through with it.”) but that could actually amount to an admission of guilt for an inchoate offense.
Understanding the Charges of Attempt, Conspiracy, and Aiding and Abetting Under South Carolina Law
1. Criminal Attempt in South Carolina
Attempting to commit a crime is itself a criminal offense in South Carolina. While failing to “successfully” commit a crime is one way that you can be charged with an attempt, you do not have to go all the way to trying to take the final step to commit a crime in order to be at risk of conviction.
All criminal offenses are made up of “elements,” and the prosecutor’s office must prove each element of an offense in order to secure a conviction. For the crime of attempt, the basic elements are:
- You intended to commit a crime;
- You took a “substantial step” toward committing the crime; and,
- You failed to commit the crime you intended to commit.
This last element is important because it protects South Carolina residents against being convicted of a substantive crime and attempt to commit that crime (i.e. you generally cannot be convicted of attempted murder and murder for killing a single person); however, the first two elements are what you need to focus on when determining how best to protect yourself against a guilty verdict at trial. For example, arguing that the prosecution cannot prove your subjective intent beyond a reasonable doubt can often be one of the most-effective defenses against a charge for an attempt.
While these are the basic elements of the crime of attempt, various South Carolina criminal statutes establish attempt offenses that are specific to certain types of criminal acts. For example, Section 16-3-29 of the South Carolina Code of Laws defines attempted murder as follows:
“A person who, with intent to kill, attempts to kill another person with malice aforethought, either expressed or implied, commits the offense of attempted murder.”
The penalty for attempted murder is up to 30 years of imprisonment without the possibility of probation or a suspended sentence.
For many types of drug crimes, the penalties for attempt are up to one half of the maximum penalty for the full commission of the attempted offense. Under Section 44-53-420 of the South Carolina Code of Laws:
“(A) Except as provided in subsection (B), a person who attempts or conspires to commit [a drug-related offense], upon conviction, [shall] be fined or imprisoned in the same manner as for the offense planned or attempted; but the fine or imprisonment shall not exceed one half of the punishment prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.
(B) A person who attempts to possess a substance made unlawful by the provisions of this article is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than five hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty days, or both.”
2. Criminal Conspiracy in South Carolina
Under South Carolina law, the crime of conspiracy is defined as, “a combination between two or more persons for the purpose of accomplishing an unlawful object or lawful object by unlawful means.” Breaking this down into elements, in order to secure a conspiracy conviction, the prosecutor’s office must prove:
- You were party to a “combination” (i.e. an arrangement or agreement) with at least one other person; and,
- You intended to commit an illegal act or achieve an unlawful objective (an unlawful “purpose”).
Unlike the definition of a criminal conspiracy under federal law and the laws of many other states, in South Carolina, an “overt act” toward commission of the intended crime is not an element of the offense. Additionally, while an agreement is one way to establish a “combination,” no evidence of a formalized agreement is required under South Carolina law.
Conspiracy is a felony offense in South Carolina carrying up to a $5,000 fine and five years of imprisonment. However, the penalties imposed cannot exceed those for the substantive crime that was the purpose of the conspiracy.
3. Aiding and Abetting in South Carolina
The crime of aiding and abetting involves assisting or encouraging someone else to commit a crime. This is commonly referred to as being an “accomplice” or “accessory.” Similar to attempt, aiding and abetting offenses are defined in relation to the specific underlying crimes. For example, under South Carolina’s prostitution statute, Section 16-15-90 of the Code of Laws, someone who “aid[s] or abet[s] prostitution knowingly” is subject to the same penalties as someone who engages in prostitution.
Similar to attempt and conspiracy, subjective intent is an element of aiding and abetting. If the prosecution cannot prove that you knew you were involved in the commission of a crime and that you intended to help facilitate the successful commission of the crime, then you are not guilty of the inchoate offense.
Speak with a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Rock Hill, SC
Have you been charged with attempt, conspiracy, or aiding and abetting in South Carolina? To speak with Rock Hill, SC criminal defense lawyer Michael L. Brown in confidence, call 803-328-8822 or request a consultation online now.