Assault of a federal officer pursuant to an agreement to assault is not beyond the reasonable intendment of the common understanding. The agreement is not thereby enlarged, for knowledge of the official identity of the victim is irrelevant to the essential nature of the agreement, entrance into which is made criminal by the law of conspiracy.
Respondent was convicted by the district court of conspiracy under 18 U.S.C.S. § 371 to commit an offense violative of 18 U.S.C.S. § 111, an assault upon a federal officer while the officer was engaged in the performance of his duties. The appellate court affirmed the convictions on the substantive charges, but reversed the conspiracy convictions, holding that while respondent’s knowledge of the victims' official status was not required to be established as to the substantive charge, nevertheless the failure to instruct the jury that such knowledge must be proved to convict on the conspiracy charge constituted plain error. The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the appellate court’s judgment.
Was it a requirement that respondent was aware that his intended victims were undercover federal agents for him to be convicted of conspiring to assault federal agents?
Where knowledge of the facts that gave rise to federal jurisdiction was not necessary for conviction of a substantive offense that embodied a mens rea requirement, such knowledge was equally irrelevant to questions of responsibility for conspiracy to commit that offense. In view of the purposes of 18 U.S.C.S. § 111 to protect both federal officers and federal functions and to insure a federal forum for prosecution of attacks upon federal officers, the statute did not require that the assailant be aware that his victim was a federal officer, even where the officer was an undercover agent. Therefore, in a prosecution under the general conspiracy statute under 18 U.S.C.S. § 371, the government was not required to show that defendant was aware that the intended victim was a federal officer and that the assault would violate federal law.