Iannelli v. United States,
420 U.S. 770 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Iannelli v. United States, 420 U.S. 770 (1975)

Iannelli v. United States

No. 73-64

Argued December 17, 1974

Decided March 25, 1975

420 U.S. 770


Each of the eight petitioners, along with seven unindicted coconspirators and six codefendants, was charged with conspiring to violate (18 U.S.C. § 371), and with violating, 18 U.S.C. § 1955, a provision of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 (Act) aimed at large-scale gambling activities; and each petitioner was convicted and sentenced under both counts. The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that prosecution and punishment for both offenses were permitted by a recognized exception to Wharton's Rule. Under that Rule, an agreement by two persons to commit a particular crime cannot be prosecuted as a conspiracy when the crime is of such a nature as necessarily to require the participation of two persons for its commission, in such a case the conspiracy being deemed to have merged into the completed offense.

Held: Petitioners were properly convicted and punished for violating 18 U.S.C. § 1955 and for conspiring to violate that statute, it being clear that Congress, in enacting the Act, intended to retain each offense as an independent curb in combating organized crime. Pp. 420 U. S. 777-791.

(a) Traditionally, conspiracy and the completed offense have been considered to constitute separate crimes, and this Court has recognized that a conspiracy poses dangers quite apart from the substantive offense. Wharton's Rule is an exception to the general principle that a conspiracy and the substantive offense that is its immediate end do not merge upon proof of the latter. Pp. 420 U. S. 777-782.

(b) The Rule -- which traditionally has been applied to offenses such as adultery where the harm attendant upon commission of the substantive offense is confined to the parties to the agreement and where the offense requires concerted criminal activity -- has current vitality only as a judicial presumption to be applied in the absence of a contrary legislative intent. Pp. 420 U. S. 782-786.

(c) Here such a contrary intent existed, for, in drafting the Act, Congress manifested its awareness of the distinct nature of a conspiracy

Page 420 U. S. 771

and the substantive offenses that might constitute its immediate end, as well as a desire to provide a number of discrete weapons for the battle against organized crime. Pp. 420 U. S. 786-789.

(d) The requirement of participation of "five or more persons" as an element of the § 1955 substantive offense reflects no more than an intent to limit federal intervention to cases where federal interests are substantially implicated, leaving to local law enforcement efforts the prosecution of small-scale gambling activities. Pp. 420 U. S. 789-790.

477 F.2d 999, affirmed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in Part II of which STEWART and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 420 U. S. 791. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 420 U. S. 798.

Primary Holding

Wharton's Rule is not applicable if there is clear legislative evidence to the contrary, since it is used to understand legislative intent. (This doctrine provides that defendants cannot be convicted of conspiracy as well as an underlying crime if the underlying crime is defined as requiring the participation of two or more people.)


Iannelli and more than five other people were convicted of conspiring to violate and of actually violating 18 U.S.C. Section 1955. This law prohibits a group of five or more people from managing, operating, directing, owning, or otherwise running a gambling business that is prohibited by state law. The trial court held that Wharton's Rule did not apply to negate the conviction of conspiracy because of the third-party exception. This situation occurs when there are more people in the conspiracy than are required to commit the substantive crime, so the conspiracy conviction is no longer duplicative. However, other courts had found that the third-party exception was inapplicable to violations of this statute and that Wharton's Rule did apply because the statute covers gambling activities that involve more than five people.



  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

Wharton's Rule is not a version of the double jeopardy principle but rather a judicially developed principle that a legislature must manifest a specific intent to punish both the conspiracy and the related substantive offense. In most situations, it applies to offenses when the harm does not affect parties other than those involved, the parties to the conspiracy agreement are the only parties who played a role in the substantive offense, and the conspiracy agreement was not likely to create the separate threat to society that conspiracy laws are intended to punish. Since Congress deliberately did not mention conspiracy or an agreement in the statute, despite mentioning conspiracies in the Organized Crime Control Act, this omission suggests that it did not intend to prevent prosecution of conspiracy offenses by merging them into prosecutions for the substantive offense.


  • William Orville Douglas (Author)
  • Potter Stewart
  • Thurgood Marshall


  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)

Case Commentary

If the harm of having multiple people participate in a crime is already contemplated as part of the substantive offense, there generally is no need to create an additional penalty to account for that extra risk. In this case, however, the statute was clearly written to pre-empt that theory.

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