Perhaps you have heard of the term, “partners in crime.” This is one way to describe conspiracy. Simply partnering with someone to commit a crime may be a criminal offense in North Carolina.

Here are the three elements the prosecution would have to prove to the judge or jury to convict you.

Element #1: An agreement

Unlike most other legal agreements, conspiracy does not have to be a written document, although it can be. Two people can have an oral agreement or a mutual understanding. You could even become a conspirator by handing someone a tool or weapon so he or she can commit a crime. 

If a husband and wife jointly commit an offense, the courts will consider them to be co-conspirators rather than a single unit as a team. However, if your spouse committed a crime, the relationship between the two of you does not provide enough circumstantial evidence to convict you of conspiracy.

Element #2: An illegal act

Technically, the law says the act must be unlawful rather than illegal. However, many sources treat the two words as synonymous. Black’s Law Dictionary states that unlawful refers to acts the law disapproves of, but does not expressly forbid. Such acts may violate public policy, though, or they may be immoral.

Old case law has allowed defenses based on the point that the act was unlawful, but not criminal. In general, though, a prosecutor will probably only press charges if the act is a criminal offense, so this defense is not likely to become relevant in a current case.

Element #3: Intent

Intent may seem straightforward: The prosecutor provides evidence you and another party intended to commit a criminal offense. Therefore, he or she has successfully proven this element. There is a catch, though. Suppose the prosecutor has enough evidence to prove only one of the parties guilty of conspiracy. Proving other conspirators exist, even if there is no proof of who they are, may be enough to convict the individual.