United States v. Feola
420 U.S. 671 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Feola, 420 U.S. 671 (1975)

United States v. Feola

No. 73-1123

Argued November 19, 1974

Decided March 19, 1975

420 U.S. 671

Syllabus

Respondent and others were convicted in a jury trial of violating 18 U.S.C. § 111 for having assaulted federal officers (here undercover narcotics agents) in the performance of their official duties, and of conspiring to commit that offense, in violation of the general conspiracy statute, 18 U.S.C. § 371. The trial court had instructed the jurors that, in order to find any of the defendants guilty on either the conspiracy count or the substantive count, they were not required to conclude that the defendants were aware that their quarry were federal officers. The Court of Appeals approved the instructions on the substantive charges but, in reliance on United States v. Crimmins, 123 F.2d 271,. and its progeny, reversed the conspiracy convictions on the ground that the trial court had erred in not charging that knowledge of the victim's official identity must be proved in order to convict on the § 371 charge.

Held:

1. Section 111, which was enacted both to protect federal officers and federal functions and to provide a federal forum in which to try alleged offenders, requires no more than proof of an intent to assault, not of an intent to assault a federal officer; and it was not necessary under the substantive statute to prove that respondent and his confederates knew that their victims were federal officers. Pp. 420 U. S. 676-686.

2. Where knowledge of the facts giving rise to federal jurisdiction is not necessary for conviction of a substantive offense embodying a mens rea requirement, such knowledge is equally irrelevant to questions of responsibility for conspiring to commit the offense. Thus, in this case, where proof of knowledge that the intended victims were federal officers was not necessary to convict under § 111, such knowledge did not have to be proved to convict under § 371. Pp. 420 U. S. 686-696.

(a) There is nothing on the face of § 371 that would appear to require a greater degree of knowledge of the official status of the victim than is required in the case of the substantive statute, and at least two decisions repudiate respondent's contentions to the

Page 420 U. S. 672

contrary, In re Coy,127 U. S. 731; United States v. Freed,401 U. S. 601. Pp. 420 U. S. 687-688.

(b) The principle of the Crimmins case, supra, that to permit conspiratorial liability where the conspirators were ignorant of the federal implications of their acts would be to enlarge their agreement beyond its terms as they understood them, has no bearing on a case like the instant one where the substantive offense, assault, is not of the type outlawed without regard to the intent of the actor to accomplish the result that is made criminal. Nor can it be said that the acts contemplated by the conspirators are legally different from those actually performed solely because of the official identity of the victim. Pp. 420 U. S. 688-693.

(c) Imposition of a strict "anti-federal" scienter requirement has no relationship to the purposes of the law of conspiracy, which are to protect society from the dangers of concerted criminal activity and to identify an agreement to engage in crime as sufficiently threatening to the social order to warrant its being the subject of criminal sanctions regardless of whether the crime agreed upon is actually committed. Pp. 420 U. S. 693-694.

486 F.2d 1339, reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS, J., joined, post, p. 420 U. S. 696.

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