18 U.S.C. 1951
The Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. 1951, makes it a crime to commit robbery or extortion that affects interstate or foreign commerce. The Hobbs Act also makes it a crime to attempt to commit those listed offenses. More often than not, Hobbs Act is used in the context of robbery. It is also sometimes used to prosecute extortions, but to a lesser extent. In either case, the Hobbs Act carries significant penalties. Usually charges under the Hobbs Act are accompanied by a series of other charges including, 924(c) offenses, conspiracy elements and sometimes RICO violations
The Henry Law Firm PLLC represents people charged with robbery and extortion under the Hobbs Act. We have successfully argued for reduced sentences and dismissal of charges. Our attorneys are well versed in challenges to the interstate and foreign commerce prong of the offense, and stand ready to argue against forensic evidence (DNA, fingerprints, cell site history) the government may use.
The Hobbs Act states:
Whoever in any way or degree obstructs, delays, or affects commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce, by robbery or extortion or attempts or conspires so to do, or commits or threatens physical violence to any person or property in furtherance of a plan or purpose to do anything in violation of this section shall be [punished].
18 U. S. C. §1951(a).
Hobbs Act Robbery
The United States Attorney’s Manual makes clear that “the robbery offense in 18 U.S.C. § 1951 is to be utilized, as a general rule, only in instances involving organized crime, gang activity, or wide-ranging schemes.” Historically, this crime has been used to prosecute robbery sprees involving gas station robberies, commercial institution robberies and other types of robbery that are not classified as bank robbery or pharmacy robbery. Bank and pharmacy robbery are separate offenses. In some instances, the government has used the Hobbs Act to prosecute gang on gang violence and the robbery of a drug dealer finding that those offenses affect interstate commerce.
In the context of the Hobbs Act, robbery is defined generally as:
Robbery is the unlawful taking or obtaining of personal property from the person or in the presence of another, against their will, by means of actual or threatened force, or violence, or fear of injury, whether immediately or in the future, to their person or property, or property in their custody or possession, or the person or property of a relative or member of their family or of anyone in their company at the time of the taking or obtaining.
Hobbs Act Extortion
Hobbs Act extortion differs from robbery in one very significant way; consent. Where as in robbery property is obtained without the consent of the person being robbed, extortion involves the taking of property from a consenting individual. However, that consent must be induced through force or threats. Extortion is generally defined as:
Extortion is the obtaining of another person’s property or money, with (his)(her) consent when this consent is induced or brought about through the use of actual or threatened force, violence or fear.
In addition to traditional extortion, the government may also charge that occurs under color of official right. This particular crime is aimed at government officials or employees. In essence, this crime attempts to regulate the authority of public office. As further explanation, the definition of extortion under color of official right is:
A public official or employee commits “extortion under color of official right” if they uses the power and authority of their office in order to obtain money, property, or something of value from another to which neither that public official or employee nor that government office has an official right. Extortion under color of official right means that a public official induced, obtained, accepted, or agreed to accept a payment to which he or she was not entitled, knowing that the payment was made in return for taking, withholding, or influencing official acts.
Interstate and Foreign Commerce
Robbery and extortion are both crimes that have traditionally been prosecuted by state courts. However, the government has some ability to regulate traditional state criminal offenses, but only in limited circumstances. In order for the United States government to regulate robbery and extortion under the Hobbs Act the law looks to the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.
There are three categories of activity that Congress may regulate under its commerce power: (1) the use of the channels of interstate commerce; (2) the instrumentalities of interstate commerce, or persons or things in interstate commerce, even though the threat may come only from intrastate activities; and (3) those activities having a substantial relation to interstate commerce, i.e., those activities that substantially affect interstate commerce. U.S.C.A. Const. Art. 1, § 8, cl. 3.
Taylor v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2074 (2016)
By alleging that a robbery or extortion has somehow affected commerce, the government may be authorized to prosecute crimes under the Hobbs Act. The impact of the crime on interstate commerce does not have to be significant, and the courts have made clear that a minimal impact is sufficient for a conviction. In some cases, the Courts have found that drug dealing affects interstate commerce as a general principle because drug crimes are regulated under federal law, even if they only occurred intrastate. The expansion of the commerce prong of the Hobbs Act is troubling.
The production, possession, and distribution of controlled substances constitute a “class of activities” that in the aggregate substantially affect interstate commerce, and therefore, Congress possesses the authority to regulate and to criminalize the production, possession, and distribution of controlled substances even when those activities occur entirely within the boundaries of a single State. U.S.C.A. Const. Art. 1, § 8, cl. 3.Taylor v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2074 (2016)
The point of contention as to whether a particular act affects interstate or foreign commerce is a significant issue in the Hobbs Act context. This is an issue that can and should be raised as there is some reason to believe there still remains division in the Supreme Court on the issue. The Supreme Court, in a dissent by Justice Thomas pointed out that the decision in Taylor, “creates serious constitutional problems and extends our already expansive, flawed commerce-power precedents.” Justice Thomas makes the point that the commerce clause has been expended to such a great extent that it should be limited, “[t]o avoid giving Congress a general police power…”
The Hobbs Act can be violated through both attempt and conspiracy. Attempt and conspiracy are inchoate crimes, meaning they are committed by seeking to or preparing to commit another crime. In this context, attempt means that a “substantial step towards the completion” of the Hobbs Act violation has occurred. A conspiracy criminalizes the agreement to commit a Hobbs Act crime. In both instances, something less than the completion of the actual robbery or extortion is required.
The federal criminal defense attorneys at The Henry Law Firm PLLC have significant experience representing individuals charged or being investigated for Hobbs Act crimes. We have represented individuals charged with sophisticated extortion schemes and and a variety of robbery crimes. Our knowledge of the law behind commerce clause litigation, violent offense sentencing enhancements and the use of forensic evidence by the government gives us the upper hand in Hobbs Act defense. Call the Henry Law Firm PLLC at 646-820-0224 to learn how our innovation and experience can help you.
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