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U.S. Supreme Court

Standefer v. United States, 447 U.S. 10 (1980)

Standefer v. United States

No. 79-383

Argued April 14, 1980

Decided June 9, 1980

447 U.S. 10


Petitioner was indicted for, inter alia, aiding and abetting a named Internal Revenue Service agent in accepting unlawful compensation, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7214(a)(2) and 18 U.S.C. § 2, which provides that whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal. Prior to the indictment, the IRS agent was acquitted of certain of the § 7214(a)(2) violations which petitioner was accused of aiding and abetting. Petitioner moved to dismiss his indictment as to aiding and abetting these violations on the ground that, since the agent had been acquitted of such violations, petitioner could not be convicted of aiding and abetting them. The District Court denied the motion, and after trial petitioner was convicted. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: A defendant accused of aiding and abetting in the commission of a federal offense may properly be convicted despite the prior acquittal of the alleged actual perpetrator of the offense. Pp. 447 U. S. 14-26.

(a) Read against its common law background, 18 U.S.C. § 2 evinces a clear congressional intent to permit such a conviction. The section gives general effect to what had always been the common law rule for second-degree principals (principals who were actually or constructively present at the scene of the crime and aided and abetted its commission) and for all misdemeanants. The legislative history of § 2 confirms this understanding. With the enactment of § 2, all participants in conduct violating a federal criminal statute are "principals," and, as such, they are punishable for their criminal conduct, the fate of other participants being irrelevant. Pp. 447 U. S. 15-20.

(b) The Government is not barred, under the doctrine of nonmutual collateral estoppel, from relitigating the issue of whether the IRS agent accepted unlawful compensation. Application of that doctrine is not appropriate here. In a criminal case, the Government is often without the kind of "full and fair opportunity to litigate" that is a prerequisite of estoppel. The application of collateral estoppel in criminal cases is also complicated by rules of evidence and exclusion unique to criminal law. Finally, in this case the important federal interest in the enforcement

Page 447 U. S. 11

of the criminal law outweighs the economy concerns undergirding the collateral estoppel doctrine. Pp. 21-25.

610 F.2d 1076, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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