U.S. v. Busic, s. 77-1375 and 77-1376

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
Citation587 F.2d 577
Docket NumberNos. 77-1375 and 77-1376,s. 77-1375 and 77-1376
Parties2 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 1225 UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Michael BUSIC, Appellant. UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Anthony LA ROCCA, Jr., Appellant.
Decision Date12 December 1978

Samuel J. Reich, Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellant Busic.

Michael A. Litman, Hickton, Dean, Litman & Tighe, Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellant La Rocca.

Blair A. Griffith, U. S. Atty., Western District of Pennsylvania by Thomas A. Crawford, Jr., Asst. U. S. Atty., Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellee.

Before VAN DUSEN and ROSENN, Circuit Judges, and STERN, * District judge.


STERN, District Judge.

On this appeal we must decide whether a defendant may receive consecutive sentences for the crime of assault with a dangerous weapon (18 U.S.C. § 111) and the crime of use of a firearm to commit that felony (18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (1)), where the dangerous weapon used in the assault is a firearm. We hold that such sentencing violates the double jeopardy clause and we remand La Rocca's case to the district court for re-sentencing.

Defendants also cite as error the trial court's refusal to sever for trial those counts of the indictment which required proof of defendants' prior felony convictions. We hold that, on the facts of this case, the refusal to sever those counts was harmless error. The other challenges raised by defendants, including the contention that the trial court erred in refusing to give a "missing witness" instruction, we find to be without merit and, thus, we affirm defendants' convictions in all other respects.


As the record at trial reveals, Michael Busic and Anthony La Rocca were involved in a conspiracy to distribute drugs which turned into an attempt to rob "front money" from an undercover agent. This attempted robbery culminated in a shootout with federal agents.

On this appeal, we must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the government. See Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 62 S.Ct. 457, 86 L.Ed. 680 (1942). Thus viewed, the evidence might be summarized as follows. Charles D. Harvey, an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration, first met Busic and La Rocca on May 7, 1976 at the home of Richard Hervaux, a government informant. At this time, defendants agreed with Harvey that Harvey would go to Florida to purchase drugs from one of the defendants' suppliers for re-distribution in the Pittsburgh area. (Tr. 21-22). Several days later, Harvey again met with the defendants and received samples of the marijuana and cocaine which he was to purchase from defendants' Florida source. (Tr. 29-30). The next day, after Harvey had arranged for his trip to Florida, La Rocca called him and insisted on seeing some "front money". A meeting was arranged for the following day in the parking lot of the Miracle Mile Shopping Center in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. (Tr. 32-33).

As agreed, but having arranged for surveillance, Harvey went to the shopping center with $30,000 in cash. (Tr. 34-35). There he saw Busic and La Rocca in La Rocca's car. (Tr. 36). La Rocca entered Harvey's car, and the two drove to the other side of the parking lot. (Tr. 39). As Harvey removed the money from the trunk, La Rocca reached for his gun. Harvey ran, but La Rocca caught him and pointed his gun at Harvey's chest. Harvey then gave a pre-arranged signal to the surveillance agents. As the agents began to converge on the scene, La Rocca fired at Harvey, and missed. La Rocca then fired two shots at the vehicle containing agents William Alfree and William Petraitis, and two shots at the vehicle containing agent John Macready. (Tr. 40). He was immediately arrested and disarmed.

Busic, who had been leaning on a nearby car during the shootout, was also arrested and disarmed, at which time he exclaimed, "Just remember that I didn't shoot at anybody and I didn't draw my gun." He was searched and a pistol was found in his belt; a search of La Rocca's car uncovered an attache case containing another pistol and a plastic box containing ammunition. (Tr. 41). When the car was further searched the following day, government agents found yet another pistol under the driver's seat and another box of ammunition in the glove compartment. (Tr. 44).

In addition to evidence regarding the conspiracy and subsequent shootout, the government also introduced in its case-in-chief evidence of defendants' prior convictions for the purpose of proving that defendants were convicted felons and, thus, had received firearms in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(h). Counsel for the defendants stipulated that Busic and La Rocca had been jointly convicted in 1973 for assault on two federal officers, theft of government property and use of a firearm to commit these felonies. These convictions were introduced through the testimony of Agent Petraitis and the actual certificates of conviction, although the government was not permitted to elicit the facts underlying these convictions. (Tr. 195).

Defendants raised the defense of entrapment. Busic took the stand on his own behalf, claiming that Hervaux had initiated the scheme to rob Harvey and further claiming that, despite his and La Rocca's efforts to back out of the scheme, Hervaux had urged them on. (Tr. 388-414). La Rocca did not himself testify, but called his common-law wife, Janna K. Sam, who testified that La Rocca avoided the repeated phone calls he received from Hervaux during the time period in question. (Tr. 470-472). In addition, defendants attempted to show the unavailability of Richard Hervaux, through the testimony of their court-appointed investigator, Fred Koerhner, who testified that he had twice attempted, unsuccessfully, to serve Hervaux. (Tr. 381). At this time, the government offered itself to serve Hervaux, but defense counsel declined the offer. (Tr. 385-386). Defendants requested, and were denied, a "missing witness instruction" which would have instructed the jury that it was entitled to draw an adverse inference based on the government's failure to call Hervaux to the stand.

The jury convicted defendants of conspiring to distribute drugs, unlawfully distributing narcotics, assaulting federal officers with a dangerous weapon, and receiving firearms while being convicted felons. In addition, each was convicted under a different subsection of 18 U.S.C. § 924: La Rocca for having Used a firearm to commit the drug conspiracy and assaults on federal officers, in violation of § 924(c)(1); Busic for having Carried a firearm unlawfully during the commission of these felonies, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (2). The sentencing judge imposed a five-year sentence on each defendant on the narcotics counts, five years on the assault with a dangerous weapon counts, and twenty years under the § 924 counts all to run consecutively to each other for a total of 30 years for each defendant.


Defendants' first and most formidable challenge is directed at 18 U.S.C. § 924. That statute penalizes a person who either:

(1) uses a firearm to commit any felony for which he may be prosecuted in a court of the United States, Or

(2) carries a firearm unlawfully during the commission of any felony for which he may be prosecuted in a court of the United States.

18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Emphasis supplied). The statute further provides for a mandatory sentence of one-to-ten years for first offenders, and two-to-twenty-five years for subsequent offenders. 1 Busic was indicted, convicted and sentenced under subsection (2) of this statute for having carried a firearm unlawfully during the commission of two federal felonies: drug conspiracy and assault on federal officers; La Rocca was indicted, convicted and sentenced under subsection (1) for having used a firearm to commit these same felonies. In addition, each defendant received consecutive sentences under the enhanced penalty provision of 18 U.S.C. § 111 for having assaulted federal officers with a "dangerous or deadly weapon." 2


Defendants argue that conspiracies to commit drug offenses (21 U.S.C. § 846) and assaults on federal officers (18 U.S.C. § 111) are not "felonies" within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). We disagree.

Section 924, Title 18, is part of the Gun Control Act of 1968, enacted in the wake of the political assassinations of that decade. The purpose of that legislation was "to strengthen Federal controls over interstate and foreign commerce in firearms and to assist the states effectively to regulate firearms traffic within their borders." H.Rep.No.1577, 90th Cong. 2d Sess., Reprinted in (1968) U.S.Code Cong. and Admin.News pp. 4410, 4411. Toward that end, Congress enacted 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(2) which makes it a federal crime to possess an unregistered firearm, federal jurisdiction being predicated upon commission of a federal felony while in possession of such a weapon. The statutory scheme shows that Congress was concerned not only about persons who possess unregistered firearms, but also about persons who, although in lawful possession of a firearm, use it to commit a federal felony. See 114 Cong.Rec. 22235-7 (1968). Thus, in subsection (1) of the statute, Congress created a crime separate from that created in subsection (2), making it a federal crime to use a firearm whether registered or unregistered to commit a federal felony.

In view of the broad objectives of the legislation, we cannot agree with defendants that the term "felony" in § 924(c)(1) should be narrowly construed so as to exclude narcotics conspiracies and assaults on federal officers. 3 The construction urged by defendants would limit the ambit of subsection (2) whose purpose was to reach the unlawful possession of all firearms, with commission of a federal felony being merely a jurisdictional linchpin. Accordingly, we hold...

To continue reading

Request your trial
68 cases
  • People v. Ford
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 19 Mayo 1988
    ...Witness: Evidentiary and Constitutional Considerations (1973) 61 Cal.L.Rev. 1422, 1427; see also United States v. Busic (3d Cir.1978) 587 F.2d 577, 2 The majority misstate the holding in Wilkes and analogous cases. They assert that the guiding principle in these cases is that comment on def......
  • United States v. Martinez, CR 19-3725 JB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • 27 Enero 2021
    ...to be introduced in a trial of charges with respect to which the evidence would otherwise be inadmissible."); United States v. Busic, 587 F.2d 577, 585 (3d Cir. 1978) (suggesting that severance should be granted where evidence of the prior conviction would be admissible on one or more count......
  • U.S. v. Silva, 79-5197
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • 1 Octubre 1984
    ...United States v. Valentine, 706 F.2d 282 (10th Cir.1983); Panzavecchia v. Wainwright, 658 F.2d 337 (5th Cir.1981); United States v. Busic, 587 F.2d 577 (3d Cir.1978), cert. denied, 452 U.S. 918, 101 S.Ct. 3055, 69 L.Ed.2d 422 In Busic, defendant was tried on a number of charges, including r......
  • U.S. v. Busic, s. 77-1375
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • 30 Abril 1981
    ...Judge. * OPINION OF THE COURT ROSENN, Circuit Judge. When this appeal first came to this court for review, United States v. Busic, 587 F.2d 577 (3d Cir. 1978), we considered the question of whether a court could validly impose consecutive sentences upon defendant LaRocca for the crime of as......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT