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DELLI PAOLI v. UNITED STATES, 352 U.S. 232 (1957)

U.S. Supreme Court

DELLI PAOLI v. UNITED STATES, 352 U.S. 232 (1957)

352 U.S. 232

No. 33.
Argued October 18, 1956.
Decided January 14, 1957.

Petitioner is one of five co-defendants convicted in a joint trial in a federal court on a federal charge of conspiring to deal unlawfully in alcohol. Without deleting references to petitioner, the court admitted in evidence a confession of another co-defendant, made after termination of the conspiracy; but the court stated clearly at the time, on several other occasions, and in its charge to the jury, that the confession was to be considered only in determining the guilt of the confessor and not that of any of the other defendants. The conspiracy was simple; the separate interests of each defendant were emphasized throughout the trial; admission of the confession was postponed to the end of the Government's case; in the main, the confession merely corroborated what the Government had already established; its references to petitioner were largely cumulative; and there was nothing in the record indicating that the jury was confused or failed to follow the court's instructions. Held: Petitioner's conviction is sustained. Pp. 233-243.

229 F.2d 319, affirmed.

Daniel H. Greenberg argued the cause and filed a brief for petitioner.

J. F. Bishop argued the cause for the United States. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Rankin, Assistant Attorney General Olney and Beatrice Rosenberg. [352 U.S. 232, 233]  

MR. JUSTICE BURTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

A joint trial in this case resulted in the conviction of five co-defendants on a federal charge of conspiring to deal unlawfully in alcohol. Only the petitioner, Orlando Delli Paoli, appealed. The principal issue is whether the trial court committed reversible error, as against petitioner, by admitting in evidence a confession of a co-defendant, made after the termination of the alleged conspiracy. The trial court declined to delete references to petitioner from the confession but stated clearly that the confession was to be considered only in determining the guilt of the confessor and not that of other defendants. For the reasons hereafter stated, we agree that, under the circumstances of this case, such a restricted admission of the confession did not constitute reversible error.

In the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, the jury convicted petitioner and four co-defendants, Margiasso, Pierro, Whitley and King, of conspiring to possess and transport alcohol in unstamped containers and to evade payment of federal taxes on the alcohol. 1 The Government's witnesses testified that they had observed actions of the defendants which disclosed the procedure through which Margiasso, Pierro and petitioner supplied unstamped alcohol to their customers, such as King and Whitley. The Government also offered, for use against Whitley alone, his written confession made in the presence of a government agent and of his own counsel after the termination of the conspiracy. 2 The court postponed the introduction of Whitley's [352 U.S. 232, 234]   confession until the close of the Government's case. At that time, the court admitted it with an emphatic warning that it was to be considered solely in determining the guilt of Whitley and not in determining the guilt of any other defendant. The court repeated this admonition in its charge to the jury.

The Court of Appeals affirmed petitioner's conviction, with one judge dissenting. 229 F.2d 319. We granted certiorari especially to consider the admissibility of Whitley's post-conspiracy confession. 350 U.S. 992 .


Petitioner first attacks the sufficiency of the evidence connecting him with the conspiracy. The Government's evidence, exclusive of Whitley's confession, showed that the defendants' conspiracy to deal in unstamped alcohol centered around a garage used for storage purposes in a residential district of the Bronx in New York City and a gasoline service station, also in the Bronx. The service station was used by Margiasso, Pierro and petitioner as a place to meet customers and transfer alcohol.

In December 1949, petitioner, using the alias of "Bobbie London," was associated with Margiasso and Pierro in inspecting the garage and in negotiating for its purchase. For $2,000 in cash, title to the garage and an adjacent cottage was taken in the name of Pierro's sister. In 1950, the garage was repaired, its windows boarded up and its doors strengthened and padlocked. Petitioner lived not far away, in the Bronx, and was observed, from time to time, at the garage or using a panel truck which was registered under a false name. During the daytime, this truck generally was parked near petitioner's home or the garage but neighbors testified that it was in use late at night. In it petitioner transported various articles to the garage or elsewhere. On one occasion, petitioner, with Margiasso, loaded it with bundles of cartons suited to [352 U.S. 232, 235]   the packing of 5-gallon cans. Late in 1951, petitioner used an additional truck, also registered under a false name. In addition, he frequently drove to the service station in a Cadillac car. On December 18, 1951, he used this car in making delivery of a large package to a nearby bar.

During December 1951, the service station often was used as a meeting place for Margiasso, Pierro and petitioner. Margiasso and petitioner were there on the evening of December 28. 3 At about 7 and 10 p. m., respectively. King and Whitley arrived. Each turned over his car to Margiasso. Margiasso drove King's car to the garage and returned with it heavily loaded. King then drove it away. Government agents followed him until he stopped in Harlem. There they arrested him and took possession of 19 5-gallon cans of unstamped alcohol found in his car. Later in the evening, Margiasso took Whitley's car to the garage and was arrested in it when leaving the still open garage. The agents thereupon seized 113 5-gallon cans of unstamped alcohol they found in the garage. Whitley, who had been waiting for Margiasso at the service station with $1,000 in a paper bag, was arrested on the agents' return with Margiasso.

Petitioner's presence at the service station on the evening of December 28 was closely related to these events. He waited there with King for Margiasso to return with King's car containing the 19 cans of alcohol. [352 U.S. 232, 236]   He was there again with Margiasso at about 10 p. m. but left shortly before Whitley came. He returned while Margiasso, Whitley and the agents were there and was arrested while attempting to drive away.

Petitioner contends that the above evidence shows merely that he was a friend and associate of Pierro and Margiasso. We conclude, however, from the record as a whole, that the jury could find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that petitioner was associated with Pierro and Margiasso in the purchase of the garage and the use of the panel truck, that he knew that unstamped alcohol was stored in the garage, that he had access to it and that he was an active participant in the transfers of alcohol to Whitley and King. Accordingly, we agree with Circuit Judge Learned Hand's statement made for the court below, following his own summary of the evidence of petitioner's participation in the conspiracy:


In considering the admissibility of the Whitley confession, we start with the premise that the other evidence against petitioner was sufficient to sustain his conviction. [352 U.S. 232, 237]   If Whitley's confession had included no reference to petitioner's participation in the conspiracy, its admission would not have been open to petitioner's objection. Similarly, if the trial court had deleted from the confession all references to petitioner's connection with the conspiracy, the admission of the remainder would not have been objectionable. The impracticality of such deletion was, however, agreed to by both the trial court and the entire court below and cannot well be controverted.

This Court long has held that a declaration made by one conspirator, in furtherance of a conspiracy and prior to its termination, may be used against the other conspirators. However, when such a declaration is made by a conspirator after the termination of the conspiracy, it may be used only against the declarant and under appropriate instructions to the jury.

Petitioner contends that Krulewitch v. United States, 336 U.S. 440 , requires the exclusion of a post-conspiracy confession of a co-conspirator. That case dealt with the scope of the co-conspirators' exception to the hearsay rule. This Court held that the utterance of a co-conspirator made after the termination of the conspiracy was inadmissible against other co-conspirators. Unlike the instant case, the declarant was not on trial and the question whether his utterance, implicating other alleged conspirators, could be admitted in a joint trial solely against the declarant, under proper limiting instructions, was neither presented nor decided.

The issue here is whether, under all the circumstances, the court's instructions to the jury provided petitioner with sufficient protection so that the admission of Whitley's confession, strictly limited to use against Whitley, constituted reversible error. The determination of this issue turns on whether the instructions were sufficiently clear and whether it was reasonably possible for the jury to follow them. 5  

When the confession was admitted in evidence, the trial court said:

The substance of this admonition was repeated several times during the cross-examination of one of the government agents before whom the confession was made and a final warning to the same effect was included in the court's charge to the jury. 6 Nothing could have been [352 U.S. 232, 241]   more clear than these limiting instructions. Petitioner, who made no objection to these instructions at the trial, concedes their clarity.

We may also fairly proceed on the basis that the jury followed these instructions. Several factors favor this conclusion: (1) The conspiracy was so simple in its character that the part of each defendant in it was easily understood. There was no mass trial and no multiplicity of evidentiary restrictions. (2) The separate interests of each defendant were emphasized throughout the trial. Margiasso and petitioner were represented by one attorney. Each of the other defendants was represented by a separate attorney. Throughout the trial, the separate interests of each defendant were repeatedly emphasized by his attorney and recognized by the court. 7 A separate trial never was requested on behalf of any defendant. (3) The trial court postponed the introduction of Whitley's confession until the rest of the Government's case was in, thus making it easier for the jury to consider [352 U.S. 232, 242]   the confession separately from the other testimony. This separation was pointed out by the trial court. Neither side thereafter introduced any evidence. (4) In the main, Whitley's confession merely corroborated what the Government already had established. In the light of the Government's uncontradicted testimony implicating petitioner in the conspiracy, the references to petitioner in the confession were largely cumulative. (5) There is nothing in the record indicating that the jury was confused or that it failed to follow the court's instructions.

It is a basic premise of our jury system that the court states the law to the jury and that the jury applies that law to the facts as the jury finds them. Unless we proceed on the basis that the jury will follow the court's instructions where those instructions are clear and the circumstances are such that the jury can reasonably be expected to follow them, the jury system makes little sense. Based on faith that the jury will endeavor to follow the court's instructions, our system of jury trial has produced one of the most valuable and practical mechanisms in human experience for dispensing substantial justice.

There may be practical limitations to the circumstances under which a jury should be left to follow instructions but this case does not present them. As a practical matter, the choice here was between separate trials and a joint trial in which the confession would be admitted under appropriate instructions. Such a choice turns on the circumstances of the particular case and lies largely within the discretion of the trial judge. Accordingly, we conclude that leaving petitioner's case to the jury under the instructions here given was not reversible error and the judgment of the Court of Appeals is

[For dissenting opinion of MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, see post, p. 246.]

229 F.2d 319, 324-326.


[ Footnote 1 ] In violation of 18 U.S.C. 371, and I. R. C., 1939, 2803 (a), 2806 (e), and 2913. Margiasso and King were also indicated and convicted for the substantive crime of possession of 19 5-gallon cans of unstamped alcohol, and Margiasso of another 113 of such cans.

[ Footnote 2 ] The confession appears as an appendix to the dissenting opinion below in 229 F.2d, at 324-326. It is also printed as an appendix to this opinion, post, p. 243.

[ Footnote 3 ] On that occasion, the procedure followed closely the pattern observed by government agents on December 18 when, at 9 p. m., Margiasso and petitioner had been at the service station. A Pontiac car, with two occupants, drove up. The occupants got out. Margiasso drove away in their car and, half an hour later, returned with it heavily loaded. When the two men drove it away, government agents tried to follow it. However, they lost it in traffic and no arrests were made. The agents noted the car's license number, found it registered under a false name, and, on December 28, recognized it as the one in which Whitley then came to the service station.

[ Footnote 4 ] Participation in a criminal conspiracy may be shown by circumstantial as well as direct evidence. See, e. g., Blumenthal v. United States, 332 U.S. 539, 557 ; Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80 ; Direct Sales Co. v. United States, 319 U.S. 703 ; United States v. Manton, 107 F.2d 834, 839.

[ Footnote 5 ] For long-standing recognition that possible prejudice against other defendants may be overcome by clear instructions limiting the jury's consideration of a post-conspiracy declaration solely to the determination of the guilt of the declarant, see also, Cwach v. United States, 212 F.2d 520, 526-527; United States v. Simone, 205 F.2d 480, 483-484; Metcalf v. United States, 195 F.2d 213, 217; United States v. Leviton, 193 F.2d 848, 855-856; United States v. Gottfried, 165 F.2d 360, 367; United States v. Pugliese, 153 F.2d 497, 500-501; Johnson v. United States, 82 F.2d 500; Nash v. United States, 54 F.2d 1006, 1007; Waldeck v. United States, 2 F.2d 243, 245.

[ Footnote 6 ] "Before you make those motions - I will again advise the jury that any admissions by the defendant Whitley after the date of his arrest can be considered by you in connection with the determination of the guilt or innocence of the defendant Whitley together with the other testimony. But any admissions by the defendant Whitley are not to be considered as proof in connection with the guilt or innocence of any of the other defendants. The reason for that I explained before to you, that the admission by a defendant after his arrest of participation in an alleged crime may be considered as evidence by the jury against him with the other evidence because it is, as the law describes it, an admission against interest which a person ordinarily would not make. However, if such a person after his arrest implicates other defendants in such admission it is not evidence against them, because as to those defendants it is nothing more than hearsay evidence. I advise you of that in connection with the testimony of the last witness [Greenberg] as to any oral statements made by Whitley or any written statements made by Whitley."

[ Footnote 7 ] Safeguarding the separate interests of the defendants, the court also said:


Prosecutions for conspiracy present difficulties and temptations familiar to anyone with experience as a federal prosecutor. The difficulties derive from observance of the rules governing evidence admissible against some but not all defendants in a criminal case. The temptations [352 U.S. 232, 247]   derive from the advantages of prosecuting in one trial two or more persons collaborating in a criminal enterprise. One of the most recurring of the difficulties pertains to incriminating declarations by one or more of the defendants that are not admissible against others. The dilemma is usually resolved by admitting such evidence against the declarant but cautioning the jury against its use in determining the guilt of the others. The fact of the matter is that too often such admonition against misuse is intrinsically ineffective in that the effect of such a non admissible declaration cannot be wiped from the brains of the jurors. The admonition therefore becomes a futile collocation of words and fails of its purpose as a legal protection to defendants against whom such a declaration should not tell. While enforcing the rule of admitting the declaration solely against a declarant and admonishing the jury not to consider it against other defendants, Judge Learned Hand, in a series of cases, has recognized the psychological feat that this solution of the dilemma demands of juries. He thus stated the problem:

It may well be that where such a declaration only glancingly, as it were, affects a co-defendant who cannot be charged with the admitted declaration, the rule enforced by the Court in this case does too little harm not to leave its application to the discretion of the trial judge. But where the conspirator's statement is so damning to another against whom it is inadmissible, as is true in this case, [352 U.S. 232, 248]   the difficulty of introducing it against the declarant without inevitable harm to a co-conspirator, the petitioner in this case, is no justification for causing such harm. The Government should not have the windfall of having the jury be influenced by evidence against a defendant which, as a matter of law, they should not consider but which they cannot put out of their minds. After all, the prosecution could use the confession against the confessor and at the same time avoid such weighty unfairness against a defendant who cannot be charged with the declaration by not trying all the co-conspirators in a single trial.

It is no answer to suggest that here the petitioner-defendant's guilt is amply demonstrated by the uninfected testimony against him. That is the best of reasons for trying him freed from the inevitable unfairness of being affected by testimony not admissible against him. In any event, it is not for an appellate tribunal to know how the jury's mind would have operated if powerfully improper evidence had not in effect been put in the scale against petitioner.

In substance, I agree with the dissenting opinion of Judge Frank, below, 229 F.2d 319, 322 and would therefore reverse. [352 U.S. 232, 249]  

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