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9 Crimes Frank Underwood Would Be Charged For, If There Were Any Justice In 'House Of Cards'

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 15/03/2016 Sara Boboltz

Warning: Spoilers below for Seasons 1 through 4 of "House of Cards."

Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood literally gets away with murder in "House of Cards." But the list of morally reprehensible and legally questionable maneuvers he's made over the course of the series extends far beyond that: He's encouraged a figure in an adversary's past to lie, ordered military action hoping it would distract from a negative newspaper article and smothered a dog hit by a car. All of which led us to an unanswered question: Which of those slimy deeds would be technically criminal in a court of law?

The Huffington Post reached out to Hogan Lovells partner and Georgetown criminal law professor Neal Katyal to discuss what charges could possibly be lodged against Underwood, given all the knowledge we have as viewers. (Katyal, the former acting solicitor general of the U.S., actually reprised his real-life role as a Supreme Court advocate in a Season 3 cameo.)

Altogether, we figured out nine of Underwood's crimes. Here they are, in order of increasing ruthlessness.

1. That time he swept congressman Peter Russo's drunk driving incident under the rug in exchange for his loyalty

Charge: Bribery of public officials and/or obstruction of criminal investigations 

Potential punishment: 15 years in prison

When Underwood discovers in Season 1 that congressman Russo was arrested for drunk driving with sex worker Rachel Posner in his vehicle, henchman Doug Stamper bribes the D.C. police commissioner by promising Underwood's support for the commissioner's mayoral campaign. In return, the incident is covered up, and Underwood makes Russo his pawn. Under the U.S. Code, Title 18, Section 201, Underwood could be charged with bribing a public official to violate his job duties, punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to 15 years, or both. He could also be charged with obstructing an investigation under Title 18, Section 1510, punishable by a fine, up to five years' jail time, or both.

2. That other time Underwood had a brick thrown through his own window to pin the crime on an opponent

Charge: Deprivation of rights under color of law and/or making false statements

Potential punishment: Five years in jail

In Season 1, Stamper tossed a brick through Underwood's window (on Underwood's own suggestion) in order to suggest the crime was committed by a supporter of Marty Spinella, leader of a teachers' union strike. After telling Spinella the truth when they were alone, the union rep assaulted Underwood. In turn, Underwood threatened to press charges in order to get Spinella to drop the strike. It'd be hard to prove, but under Section 242 that could constitute a deprivation of rights with wide-ranging punishments. Suggesting the brick was thrown by someone else might violate Section 1001, punishable by a fine and up to five years' jail time. 

3. When he told Stamper to send Rachel Posner to pick up Russo at a fundraiser

Charge: Soliciting for prostitution

Potential punishment: 90 days in jail

Tasked with ruining a crucial radio interview set for the next day, sex worker Rachel Posner finds Russo at a fundraising event in Season 1 and the two get a hotel room. Further, she encourages Russo, a recovering alcoholic, to drink -- ruining his chance at giving a good interview. According to D.C. law, soliciting prostitution is punishable by a $500 fine and up to 90 days of jail time. 

4. When Underwood had Stamper tell an FBI agent to threaten hard-nosed reporter Janine Skorsky

Charge: Tampering with a witness, victim or an informant

Potential punishment: Three years in jail

Looking into Underwood's connection to Russo's death raised a red flag, leading to Agent Green making veiled threats on Skorsky's life in Season 2. According to Section 1512, that's a crime that could earn Underwood and co. a fine or up to three years' jail time.

5. That long period during which Underwood knew about a money laundering scheme between billionaire Raymond Tusk and casino owner Dan Lanigan  

Charge: Laundering of monetary instruments

Potential punishment: 20 years in prison

Season 2's way-too-drawn-out drama between Underwood and Tusk came to an end when they mixed President Garrett Walker up into Tusk's scheme to launder money earned in illicit dealings with Chinese investor Xander Feng through Lanigan's casino. Underwood's knowledge of it, however, could implicate him in the crime. Money laundering is punishable by a fine of up to $500,000 "or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greater," or 20 years in prison. Or both.

6. When he decided if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and collaborated with data scientist Aidan to collect information on voters

Charge: Fraud and related activity in connection with computers

Potential punishment: 20 years in prison

Opposition candidate Will Conway was already doing it in Season 4, so what could be the harm? According to Section 1030, that kind of unlawful invasion of digital privacy could land Underwood a fine or 20 years of prison time.

7. That sad time Stamper forced Posner to move across state lines -- eventually ending in her murder.

Charge: Kidnapping and first-degree murder

Potential punishment: "Any term of years or for life" in prison

Working, as always, for Underwood, Stamper up and moves Posner further away from D.C. in Season 2. Even though Russo's death had been ruled a suicide, Posner could still link the two of them to the dead congressman. Stamper pays her rent, but tells her not to make friends or go out. When she escapes, Stamper tracks her down to New Mexico and runs her over with his car, letting his boss know about the deed after it's done. Another word for that might be kidnapping and murder. Punishment includes a broad possible range of jail time and even the death penalty.

8. The day he left an unconscious Peter Russo in a running car parked in his garage to suffocate

Charge: First-degree murder

Potential punishment: Life in prison

No grey area around this one: Underwood murdered the congressman in Season 1 when he showed himself to be too difficult to control. Punishment includes prison time up to a life term or the death penalty.

9. The moment he decided to push Zoe Barnes into an oncoming train

Charge: First-degree murder

Potential punishment: Life in prison

Yep, more murder. Barnes, too, suffered an ill fate when she dug in too deep on her source's involvement in Russo's death. Her Season 2 death will forever remind us to stay a cautious distance from the edge of the train platform.

All totaled, Underwood could possibly face various fines plus imprisonment for three life terms, 63 additional years and three months. But we somehow doubt he'll have to pay for all, or any, of it.

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