Hobbs Act Defense Lawyer – 18 U.S.C § 1951
The Hobbs Act under 18 U.S.C § 1951 is a federal law prohibiting extortion or robbery by wrongful use of force or fear, or the attempt of these crimes, affecting interstate or foreign commerce.
This 1946 Act was originally designed to target racketeering in labor disputes which were fairly common at that time. However, now, the Hobbs Act is a common statute used by federal prosecutors for public corruption and commercial disputes, but still used for cases of alleged union corruption.
This federal stature prohibits public officials from acquiring property under color of official right or using their authority for extorting property. Further, it prohibits individuals from making threats to use force, violence, or fear to acquire property.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation normally will review any alleged Hobbs Act violation which are prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office.
Being accused of robbery or extortion can be a scary reality for anyone, especially someone who has never been charged with a crime before.
But to also be charged with violating the Hobbs Act in connection with that robbery or extortion is a very serious issue.
For most people, the Hobbs Act is an unfamiliar piece of federal law usually reserved for racketeering in labor-management disputes or other types of corruption cases.
What is the Hobbs Act?
The Hobbs Act is a federal statute under 18 U.S.C § 1951 that makes it illegal for anyone to impede or affect interstate commerce “in any way or degree” by committing robbery or extortion. It states:
- “(a) Whoever in any manner obstructs, delays, or affects commerce or the movement of commerce by robbery or extortion or attempts, conspires, or threatens physical violence to a person or property in furtherance of a plan to do anything in violation of this statute shall be fined or imprisoned up to twenty years, or both.”
Essentially, this means if you are charged with robbery or extortion, and the State determines that your alleged act of robbery or extortion obstructed, delayed, or affected interstate commerce in any way or degree, you will be subject to additional and more severe penalties. Under 18 U.S.C § 1951:
- Robbery is generally described as the unlawful taking of property from someone, without consent, using force, threats, or violence.
- Extortion is generally described as obtaining property from someone, with consent, induced by unlawful use of force, threats, fear, or under color of official right.
Extortion crimes sometimes involve robbery, conspiracy, assault, murder, attempted murder and other similar state crimes.
Because the Hobbs Act is so broad, it doesn't matter that the person or company the defendant allegedly robbed or extorted be personally involved in interstate commerce. It only requires that, somehow, the crime itself affected interstate commerce. Violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity are defined under 18 U.S.C. 1959.
How is a Hobbs Act Violation Proven?
In order for a defendant to be convicted of the Hobbs Act, the prosecutor must be able to prove several different factors beyond any reasonable doubt, which are often called the “elements of the crime.”
In theory, if one factor can't be proven, then a defendant can't be convicted of that specific charge, but could still be convicted of a lesser included charge.
Thus, for a prosecutor to convict someone of violating the Hobbs Act, they must prove the defendant:
- obtained or attempted to obtain property from another person with consent, or conspired to do same,
- wrongfully used actual or threats of force, violence, fear, or under color of official right,
- had intent to commit a criminal act,
- while doing so, affected interstate commerce in some way.
As you can see, while extortion normally involves some type of violence or threats to the victim, the Hobbs Act can be violated under the color of official right.
This means when a public official is involved, the prosecutor does not have to prove they made threats to the victim, rather they can prove extortion occurred just by the nature of the public office occupied by the defendant.
A conviction for violating the Hobbs Act can result in up to 20 years in a federal prison and a fine determined by the court.
Defenses to the Hobbs Act
To defend yourself against a Hobbs Act violation, you need to show that one of the elements above has not been met.
Our federal criminal defense attorneys can review the facts of your case and determine a unique strategy that could garner the best possible outcome.
We might be able to make a reasonable argument of these crucial factors that the defendant:
- actions did not affect, delay, or obstruct interstate commerce,
- did not truly extort, or attempt, to rob a person or company,
- did not use force or fear to induce victim to give up their property,
- victim did not suffer a loss or defendant did not benefit from property.
Extortion under California law
Under California Penal Code 518 PC, extortion occurs when a defendant forces another person to give up their property or makes them perform some act by using force or unlawful threats.
A good example of extortion is blackmail. To prove a defendant did not commit extortion, our lawyers will turn to three primary defenses as a starting point:
- defendant didn't do anything illegal or perform an official act to make the person party with their property,
- defendant is falsely accused,
- prosecution does not have enough evidence to support the charge – (i.e., if the property in question wasn't something of value).
If you are under investigation for extortion under the Hobbs Act, you will need to retain an experienced federal criminal attorney.
Before a federal indictment, you must take proactive steps in your own defense, including avoiding making crucial mistakes, such as making statements to federal law enforcement agents.
If you received a target letter, subpoenaed to produce documentation or provide testimony to a grand jury, or your home and office was searched, then it's critical that you respond properly as your freedom is at stake.
How a Hobbs Act Defense Attorney Can Help You
Our federal crime attorneys know how to protect your rights as the prosecution starts to close in. We are skilled negotiators and will provide you with representation before an actual criminal indictment is filed.
It is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible when charged with the white collar crime of violating the Hobbs Act.
Being charged with robbery or extortion is one thing, but adding a Hobbs Act violation would also add more severe penalties.
Both the robbery and extortion charges would be subject to up to an additional 20-year sentence.
Our skilled attorneys will understand the nuances of this federal statute and work through the facts until a defense is created for you.
Eisner Gorin LLP has decades of experience in the California federal criminal courts.
Contact us for a consultation at 877-781-1570.