Whether, in a federal criminal prosecution under the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. §1951, the Government is relieved of proving beyond a reasonable doubt the interstate commerce element by relying exclusively on evidence that the robbery or attempted robbery of a drug dealer is an inherent economic enterprise that satisfies, as a matter of law, the interstate commerce element of the offense.
Lower court opinion: United States v. Taylor, 754 F.3d 217 (4th Cir. 2014)
This case will be of interest to federal practitioners, as the Court’s decision may reverse Seventh Circuit precedent.
A Hobbs Act crime has two elements: 1) robbery or extortion; and 2) interference with interstate commerce. At his trial on charges of attempting to rob Virginia drug dealers of marijuana and drug proceeds, Taylor wanted to argue that robbing drug dealers of marijuana grown in Virginia would have no effect on interstate commerce and, therefore, that the evidence didn’t support a conviction under the Hobbs Act. The lower courts rejected this type of evidence and argument based on circuit precedent that drug dealing affects interstate commerce as a matter of law, e.g., United States v. Williams, 342 F.3d 350, 354 (4th Cir. 2003). Other circuits, however, including our own Seventh Circuit, hold that case-specific evidence that robbing a marijuana dealer requires some evidence the drugs weren’t grown in the state where the robbery occurs, e.g., United States v. Peterson, 236 F.3d 848 (7th Cir. 2001). The Court will now resolve this split by affirming or reversing the approach taken in Peterson.