United States v. Feola

The Facts

Defendant and his companions arranged to sell heroin to buyers which were undercover agents.  They planned to sell the officers sugar instead of heroine and if that failed they planned steal the money they had brought for purchase.  Before defendant could begin the assault, an officer drew his weapon and arrested him and his companions.

Procedural History

At trial the jury was instructed that they did not have to conclude defendants were aware that defendant knew he was dealing with federal officers.  The court of appeals reversed on the grounds that the prosecution must prove defendants knew they were officers.


“In order to sustain a judgment of conviction on a charge of conspiracy to violate a federal statute, the Government must prove at least the degree of criminal intent necessary for the substantive offense itself.”

The Issue

“Whether knowledge that the intended victim is a federal officer is a requisite for the crime of conspiracy to commit assault upon a federal office while engaged in the performance of his official duties.”

The Holding/Reasoning

No.  “We hold here only that where a substantive offense embodies only a requirement of mens rea as to each of its elements, the general federal conspiracy statute requires no more.”  A natural reading of the text demonstrates that only the elements of it must be met.  It may be true that in order to convicted of conspiracy to commit a particular interstate commerce crime, the defendants must have known that the prohibited conduct was to cross state lines.  This higher level of knowledge is required for “federal jurisdiction,” but not for the official status of the conspired victim.  The question is related to the acts of the victim instead.

Conspiracy serves two purposes: (1) to protect society from the dangers of conspired crime (2) criminalization of such preparation for the crime that intent is fully formed to justify intervention in order to protect social order.  As to (1), absolving the defendant of liability because he did not know the official status of the victim serves no purpose.  As to (2), the defendant is no less blameworthy and maintains the same culpability in his intent whether the victim is an officer or not.  “We fail to see how the agreement is nay less blameworthy or constitutes less of a danger to society solely because the participants are unaware of the body of law they intent to violate.”

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