515 F.2d 29 (3rd Cir. 1975), 74-1090, United States v. Armocida

Docket Nº:Appeal of Alespeo Aldo CONTI, in No. 74-1090.
Citation:515 F.2d 29
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Anthony N. ARMOCIDA a/k/a
Case Date:April 11, 1975
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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515 F.2d 29 (3rd Cir. 1975)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,


Anthony N. ARMOCIDA a/k/a "Sonny" et al.

Appeal of Alespeo Aldo CONTI, in No. 74-1090.

Appeal of Anthony ARMOCIDA, in No. 74-1146.

Appeal of George JOSEPH, in No. 74-1253.

Nos. 74-1090, 74-1146 and 74-1253.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

April 11, 1975

Argued Nov. 14, 1974.

As Amended April 23, 1975.

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James K. O'Malley, Morris, Safier & Makoroff, and John L. Doherty, Thomas A. Livingston, of Livingston, Miller & Haywood, Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellants.

Reuben H. Wallace, Jr., Crim. Div., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., Peter M. Shannon, Jr., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., Richard L. Thornburgh, U. S. Atty., Carl L. Lo Presti, Pittsburgh Strike Force, Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellee.

Before VAN DUSEN, HUNTER and GARTH, Circuit Judges.

Opinion of the Court

GARTH, Circuit Judge.

The appellants, charged with various violations of the federal narcotics and conspiracy statutes, appeal from their convictions and sentences following a jury verdict. Each of them allege numerous individual and common grounds for reversal of their respective convictions, placing particular emphasis on the failure of the district court to suppress evidence obtained through a series of court-ordered electronic surveillances.


On January 26, 1973, a sixteen count indictment charging various narcotics violations was returned against ten individuals, including the three appellants: Anthony Armocida, a/k/a "Sonny", Alespeo Aldo Conti, a/k/a "Spoons", a/k/a "Spooks", a/k/a "The Shoe Salesman", and George Joseph. In essence, the indictment charged the defendants with the importation, possession and distribution of heroin and with conspiracy to import and distribute heroin.

After pleading not guilty to the charges on March 2, 1973, Armocida and Conti moved to suppress evidence obtained

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by wiretaps, 1 asserting a lack of probable cause. Armocida only moved to suppress for failure to minimize the interception of non-relevant conversations. The motions were denied. Thereafter, the appellants (with other co-defendants not appellants here) 2 were jointly tried to a jury in the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. After a nine-week trial, the three appellants were found guilty on various counts of the indictment 3 and sentenced. These appeals followed.

II. Wiretap Violations

Appellants Armocida and Conti contend that the evidence seized during the wiretaps on their telephones should have been suppressed because the only support for the wiretap application was an affidavit which failed to establish probable cause.

The federal wire interception statute, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2520 (Title III, Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968), requires a wiretap application to show probable cause in three different contexts. The first is that an individual has or is about to commit one of several enumerated offenses, including the importation and distribution of heroin; the second: that particular communications relating to the charged offense will be obtained through the interception; third: the premises where the interception will be made are being used in connection with the charged offense. 4 We have considered

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the appellants' contentions and have independently examined the relevant affidavits supporting the wiretap application. See United States v. Lampkin, 464 F.2d 1093, 1095 (3d Cir. 1972). Applying the statutory standard 5 of "probability" as distinct from a "prima facie showing", Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 96, 85 S.Ct. 223, 13 L.Ed.2d 142 (1964), we hold that the application on which the district court's order of September 19, 1972 issued, satisfied the probable cause requirements of the statute.

  1. Armocida

    Before a warrant may have issued here, § 2518(3)(a) required that there be probable cause that Armocida was engaged in the unlawful importation and distribution of heroin. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 2516, 2518(3)(a). Here, the government's showing of probable cause depends primarily upon information supplied by a confidential informant and upon conversations intercepted on (co-defendant) George Gazal's telephone.

    Special Agent Greene's affidavit 6 reveals that a confidential informant acquired his information by direct dealings with Armocida in heroin distribution. Section A of the affidavit in part recites: "These two men (Armocida and co-defendant Eugene Gesuale, who was acquitted) asked the informant if he (the informant) could locate a source of heroin." The affidavit also sought to establish the informant's reliability by referring to other instances in which information provided by the same informant had been corroborated by independent investigation. 7

    Greene's affidavit, relying as it does on an informant, must be tested by the standards of Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410, 89 S.Ct. 584, 21 L.Ed.2d 637 (1969) and its progeny. See United States v. Harris,403 U.S. 573, 91 S.Ct. 2075, 29 L.Ed.2d 723 (1971); United States v. Singleton, 439 F.2d 381 (3d Cir. 1971). Under Spinelli, two distinct analyses are required to determine if probable cause is established through information provided by an informant. Spinelli requires: first, that the affidavit set forth the " 'underlying circumstances' necessary to enable the magistrate independently to judge of the validity of the informant's conclusion," and second, that the affidavit must reveal the basis of the informant's reliability. 393 U.S. at 413, 89 S.Ct. at 587. Greene's affidavit clearly meets these two requirements. As such, it is adequate to support an independent judgment of probable cause.

    Supplementing the informant's information, Greene's affidavit recites intercepted conversations between Armocida and Gazal (obtained pursuant to the Gazal wiretap). These conversations reveal the probability that Armocida was familiar with and a participant in the scheme of distributing heroin through Gazal. Thus, the first probable cause requirement of § 2518 is satisfied. See 18 U.S.C. § 2518(3)(a).

    Next, Armocida urges that even if the affidavit showed probable cause of the existence of the illegal activity itself, it nonetheless was deficient in that it failed to establish the other two elements of probable cause required in 18 U.S.C. § 2518(3)(b) and (d): (1) that the communication relative to the offense would be obtainable through monitoring as required by § 2518(3)(b), and (2) that the premises (where the interception took place) were being used in connection with the illegal activity, § 2518(3)(d). See supra note 4.

    We find no merit to this argument. The conversations intercepted by the wiretap on Gazal's telephone and set forth in the Greene affidavit, amply

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    demonstrate that Armocida utilized his telephone from his premises to communicate with other alleged conspirators in furtherance of the conspiracy to distribute heroin.

    Armocida also argues that the affidavit was statutorily insufficient as it alleged that he was violating 21 U.S.C. §§ 952 and960(a)(1) 8 by the importation of heroin without detailing the offense with sufficient particularity as required by 18 U.S.C. § 2518(1)(b)(i). 9 However, in our view the "particularity" requirements of § 2518(1)(b)(i) are not to be given an overly narrow reading, but are rather to be interpreted in a common sense and pragmatic fashion. See United States v. Tortorello,480 F.2d 764, 780-81 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 414 U.S. 866, 94 S.Ct. 63, 38 L.Ed.2d 86 (1973). What is required in the application is the identification of, and details related to, a specified crime or a specified series of related crimes. Here, interception was sought of conversations relating to a pattern of criminal conduct (from importation to ultimate distribution), within which violations of §§ 952 and 960(a)(1) were alleged. Although the affidavit makes limited reference to §§ 952 and 960(a)(1), it nevertheless describes the pattern of criminal conduct and the nature of offenses sought to be investigated through the use of wiretaps. Those offenses are sufficiently identified and particularized so as to include "importation", thereby satisfying the requirements of the statute. See United States v. Tortorello, 480 F.2d at 778-81; cf. Steele v. United States, 267 U.S. 498, 504, 45 S.Ct. 414, 69 L.Ed. 757 (1925).

    We also reject Armocida's final contention that the evidence from the wiretaps should be suppressed because the affidavit supporting the application failed to establish the need for a wiretap. As required by statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2518(3) (c), the issuing district court judge found on the basis of the wiretap application that "normal investigative procedures have been tried and reasonably appear unlikely to succeed, if continued."

    The statutory requirement that "normal investigative procedures" be first exhausted, must be reviewed in a "practical and common sense fashion":

    "Subparagraph (c) requires a full and complete statement as to whether or not normal investigative procedures have been tried and have failed or why these are unlikely to succeed if tried, or to be too dangerous. . . . The judgment would involve a consideration of all the facts and circumstances. Normal investigative procedure would include, for example, standard visual or aural surveillance techniques by law enforcement officers, general questioning or interrogation under an immunity grant, use of regular search warrants, and the infiltration of conspiratorial groups by undercover agents or informants. Merely because a normal investigative technique is...

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