United States v. Feola

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Ralph Feola
LOCATION: 155 West 68th Street, New York, New York

DOCKET NO.: 73-1123
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 420 US 671 (1975)
ARGUED: Nov 19, 1974
DECIDED: Mar 19, 1975
GRANTED: Apr 15, 1974

ADVOCATES:
Allan A. Tuttle - for petitioner
George J. Bellantoni - for respondent

Facts of the case

On August 21, 1971, Ralph Feola, along with Enriquito Alsondo, Henry Rosa, and Michael Farr, planned to sell a kilo of powdered sugar in place of heroin to customers who, unbeknownst to them, were undercover cops. If the sale did not go well, the four planned to attack the buyers and take the money. Agent Hall and Agent Lightcap posed as customers and the deal was in progress when they found themselves under attack. They countered the attack, and Feola, Alsondo, Rosa, and Farr were arrested for conspiracy to assault and assaulting federal agents in the commission of their duties.

At trial in the district court, the jury instructions specified that knowledge of the agents’ true identities was not a necessary element to prove the conspiracy charge. When the respondents appealed, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the conviction on the assault charges, but reversed the conviction on the conspiracy charges.

Question

Is the knowledge that an intended assault victim is a federal agent an essential element in the crime of conspiracy to assault a federal officer?

Media for United States v. Feola

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 19, 1975 in United States v. Feola

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in No. 73-1123, United States against Feola will be announced by Mr. Justice Blackmun along with 73-1452, Oregon against Hass.

Harry A. Blackmun:

For the No. 1123, the Feola case is one that comes to us from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The respondent Feola and others were convicted in a jury trial violating a federal statute for having assaulted federal undercover narcotics agents in the performance of their official duties and of violating still another statute for conspiring to commit that offense.

The trial court, it instructed the jury that in order to find any of the defendants guilty on either the conspiracy count or the substantive count the jury was not required to conclude that the defendants were aware that their victims were federal agents.

The Court of Appeals approved the instructions on the substantive charge but relying on an old Second Circuit case reversed the conspiracy convictions on the ground that knowledge of the official identity of the victim must be proved in order to convict of a conspiracy.

The facts reveal a typical narcotics rip off when the federal officers closed in on the respondent and his associates.

They were in civilian clothes and had been assumed by the respondent to be buyers rather than federal agents.

In an opinion filed today we hold that knowledge of the identity of the victim is not necessary for a federal conviction for either the substantive charge or the conspiracy charge.

And the judgment of the Court of Appeals insofar as it concerns the conspiracy is therefore reversed.

I'm authorized to say that Mr. Justice Stewart has filed a dissenting opinion and is joined in that opinion by Mr. Justice Douglas.