State v. Lawrence, 210 N.C. App. 73 (Mar. 1, 2011)

rev’d on other grounds, 365 N.C. 506 (Apr. 13, 2012)

(1) The evidence was insufficient to support two charges of conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Having failed to achieve the objective of the conspiracy on their first attempt, the defendant and his co-conspirators returned the next day to try again. When the State charges separate conspiracies, it must prove not only the existence of at least two agreements, but also that they were separate. There is no bright-line test for whether multiple conspiracies exist. The essential question is the nature of the agreement(s), but factors such as time intervals, participants, objectives, and number of meetings must be considered. Applying this analysis, the court concluded that only one agreement existed. In both attempts, the intended victim and participants were the same; the time interval between the two attempts was approximately 36 hours; on the second attempt the group did not agree to a new plan; and while the co-conspirators considered robbing a different victim, that only was a back-up plan. The court rejected the State’s argument that because the co-conspirators met after the first attempt, acquired additional materials, made slight modifications on how to execute their plan, and briefly considered robbing a different victim, they abandoned their first conspiracy and formed a second one. (2) The trial judge committed plain error by failing to instruct the jury on all elements of conspiracy to commit armed robbery. The judge instructed the jury that armed robbery involved a taking from the person or presence of another while using or in the possession of a firearm. The judge failed to instruct on the element of use of the weapon to threaten or endanger the life of the victim.