First Monday and Federal Criminal Law

Happy First Monday.  Dress up as your favorite Supreme Court Justice.  The Court kicks off its October 2015 Term today.  The first Order List from the September 28 conference (there should be more this morning) ended up offering some new federal criminal law cases, or those with implications for federal criminal law.  Let me start my coverage of OT15 by previewing just a few.

Ocasio v. United States: this is a federal extortion case under the Hobbs Act (18 USC 1951), which forbids extortion under color of official right.  Ocasio, who is a Baltimore police officer, and some fellow officers were charged for accepting kickbacks from a local auto body repair shop, to which they would steer vehicles involved in traffic accidents.  But Ocasio was also charged with conspiring to violate the Hobbs Act.  This requires that he and others form an agreement to take the property from another under color of official right.  Ocasio claims that he cannot be guilty of conspiracy because the owners of the repair shop were involved in the conspiracy and it was their property that he was obtaining.  Therefore, he could not have conspired to obtain property from another.  Ocasio says the property that one is taking must be obtained from someone who is not a party to the conspiracy.  Rory Little has a great explanation of the case over at SCOTUSBlog.

RJR Nabisco v. European Community: this is a civil case brought under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) (18 USC 1961, et seq.).  But that law has a criminal component, and decisions in civil cases affect the statute’s reach in criminal cases.  So whatever the Court decides in this case will apply in criminal RICO prosecutions, as well.  A large number of member states in the European Union (26 of them) filed a civil suit under RICO against RJR, claiming that it managed and controlled a global money laundering operation with criminal organizations.  According to the lower court filings, the scheme involves the selling of illegal narcotics, purchased in euros, which are then laundered in Europe where money brokers exchange the euros for the currency of the country where the organizations originate.  The complex scheme then involves cigarette importers and wholesalers, who purchase from RJR.  The tobacco giant claims that RICO does not have extraterritorial application, and so the RICO claims must be dismissed.  The district court agreed with RJR; the Second Circuit vacated that decision and remanded the case.

Taylor v. United States: another Hobbs Act case, this one dealing with the robbery provisions of the law and whether the defendant’s conduct satisfied the required connection to interstate commerce.  Taylor was part of a Roanoke, Virginia-based robbery ring that would rob drug dealers (brilliant, no?).  His group was the “Southwest Goonz.”  The two people that he targeted in this case were each believed to keep marijuana in their homes.  When Taylor invaded their homes with his cohorts and they demanded the marijuana, the robbers ultimately came up with little marijuana (one cigarette only), but made off with some cash, cell phones, and jewelry.  Taylor also held a six-year-old at gunpoint during one of the robberies.  Taylor was eventually charged under the Hobbs Act, was convicted in a re-trial after a hung jury, and sentenced to 336 months.  But Taylor claims that his conduct did not “obstruct, delay, or affect commerce” because it involved only his effort to obtain Virginia-grown marijuana.  In other words, his conduct reached only intrastate, but not interstate, commerce.  This, he says, is not enough for federal criminal liability under the Hobbs Act.  The Fourth Circuit’s decision denying his claim is at 754 F.3d 217 (4th Cir. 2014). (I will have a lot more to say about this case in the coming weeks.  This may be my favorite so far this Term.)

I will continue previewing and commenting on cases as the Term develops.  A little bit at time.




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