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United States v. Falu

October 30, 1985


Appeal from judgment of United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Robert L. Carter, J., convicting defendant of aiding and abetting distribution of heroin within 1,000 feet of school.

Author: Feinberg

Before: FEINBERG, Chief Judge, KEARSE and CARDAMONE, Circuit Judges

FEINBERG, Chief Judge:

Ramon Falu appeals from a judgment of conviction following a jury trial before Robert L. Carter, J., in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Appellant Falu was convicted on one count of distributing heroin within 1,000 feet of a school, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 812, 841(a)(1) and 845a(a) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Falu raises several claims on appeal. Most significantly, he objects to the district court's construction of 21 U.S.C. § 845a(a), which enhances penalties for those convicted of distributing drugs near a school. We find that the district court correctly interpreted the statute and that none of Falu's other arguments have merit. We affirm his conviction.


Appellant was arrested as part of an undercover operation. From the evidence before it, the jury could have found that Officer Jose Santiago, posing as a drug user, approached Falu and asked him in Spanish for heroin. Falu responded, "Come on, I take you to some one who got some good stuff," and then accompanied Santiago one block north to the street corner where co-defendant Manuel Perez was selling heroin. Falu called Perez over, addressing him by the nickname "Carmello," and indicated that Santiago wanted heroin. Perez and Santiago negotiated the sale, and the officer then departed. Falu and Perez remained together on the street corner. They were arrested a few minutes later by Santiago's back-up team. Perez had the $20 of prerecorded "buy-money" on him; Falu had no funds.

Falu and Perez were both charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin and one count of distribution. After presentment, Perez became a fugitive and, consequently, Falu was tried alone. The government's only witnesses at trial were two police officers, one of whom was Santiago. On a defense motion, with the consent of the government, the conspiracy count was dropped. The nature of the substance sold to Santiago, the proximity of Public School 7 and the fact that the school was not in view from the location where the sale was made were stipulated at trial. The government introduced no evidence to show that Falu knew he was within 1,000 feet of a school. Appellant did not testify on his own behalf; he called no witnesses and presented no evidence.

The jury convicted Falu of aiding and abetting Perez's distribution of heroin within 1,000 feet of a school. After denying Falu's motions for acquittal and a new trial, Judge Carter sentenced him to eight months imprisonment, followed by ten years special parole, and assessed him $50 as provided by 18 U.S.C. § 3013. This appeal followed.


The statute principally involved in this case, hereinafter referred to as the "schoolyard statute," 21 U.S.C. § 845a, was enacted in October 1984. Designed to "send a signal to drug dealers that we will not tolerate their presence near our schools," 130 Cong. Rec. S559 (daily ed. January 31, 1984)(statement of Sen. Paula Hawkins), the statute provides stiff penalties for anyone convicted of selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a public or private elementary or secondary school. A first conviction of selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a public or private elementary or secondary school. A first conviction carries a term on imprisonment of up to twice that authorized for a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and a term of special parole of at least twice that authorized by section 841(b).*fn1 A second offense carries a minimum sentence of three years and a maximum of life, followed by at least three times the special parole authorized by section 841(b). Section 845a(c) restricts parole eligibility.*fn2

Appellant objects to application of the schoolyard statute to him on two grounds. First, he claims that the schoolyard statute does not apply to aiders and abettors. He stresses that it singles out for enhanced penalties only distribution of a controlled substance from among all section 841(a)(1) offenses. From this, he argues that the schoolyard statute does not apply to an aider and abettor who does not actually distribute or control the distribution of narcotics. Appellant contends that the legislative history supports this construction, since Congress expressed its objection to "pushers" and "dealers" operating in areas around schools, but made no mention of "steerers" or other supporting actors in the distribution process. See 130 Cong. Rec. S559, supra. Appellant notes that application to aiders and abettors could result in conviction under the schoolyard statute of someone who was never within 1,000 feet of a school. Citing the "rule of lenity" used to construe criminal statutes, including sentence-enhancing provisions, see Bifulco v. United States, 447 U.S. 381, 387, 65 L. Ed. 2d 205, 100 S. Ct. 2247 (1980), he also urges that the statute not be applied to aiders and abettors absent a clear indication that Congress intended to do so.

Second, Falu argues that section 845a(a) does not apply unless a defendant had specific knowledge of the proximity of a school, which was not established at Falu's trial. He relies on Liparota v. United States, 471 U.S. 419, 105 S. Ct. 2084, 85 L. Ed. 2d 434 (1985), which held that to convict under 7 U.S.C. § 2024(b) the government had to prove that the defendant knew "his acquisition or possession of food stamps was in a manner unauthorized by statute or regulations." Id. at 2092 (footnote omitted). Appellant argues that without a requirement that a defendant be aware of the key element under the schoolyard statute, namely, proximity to a school, the statute fails to provide fair notice that the prohibited conduct is subject to enhanced penalties. Appellant describes urban areas where schools are not clearly visible from points within the 1,000-foot zone or are not readily identifiable.

Falu attempts to distinguish the schoolyard statute from a statute like 18 U.S.C. § 111, which makes assaulting a federal officer a federal offense regardless of the defendant's knowledge of the victim's identity. See United States v. Feola, 420 U.S. 671, 684, 43 L. Ed. 2d 541, 95 S. Ct. 1255 (1975). Section 111, Falu argues, seeks to effectuate the legislative aim-protection of federal officers-directly, while the statute operates only indirectly to benefit school children. Appellant maintains that requiring the government to establish knowledge is fully compatible with a legislative scheme affording indirect protection, and in his brief he gives examples of how knowledge could be established.

We have no precedent directly on point dealing with the interpretation of section 845a(a). Therefore, we rely primarily on the language of the statute and its legislative history, and the effect of the general aiding and abetting statute. We do not find support in these sources for appellant's claim that the schoolyard statute cannot apply to aiders and abettors. Section 2(a) of Title 18 of the United States Code states that "whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal." This section has been broadly interpreted to mean that "all participants in conduct violating a federal criminal statute are 'principals.'" Standefer v. United States, 447 U.S. 10, 20, 64 L. Ed. 2d 689, 100 S. Ct. 1999 (1980). by its terms, the schoolyard statute admits no exception to the general rule that aiders and abettors are punishable as principals. While appellant contends that the legislative ...

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