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U.S. v. TAYLOR, NO. 13-4316

Decided: June 6, 2014

The Fourth Circuit affirmed Taylor’s convictions for two counts of Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a) and one count of using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

Taylor, as part of a robbery group known as the Southwest Goonz, broke into the homes of drug dealers to steal drugs and money.  The victims were assaulted and held at gunpoint.  Money, jewelry, cell phones, and a marijuana cigarette were stolen.  The district court granted the Government’s motion to preclude Taylor from offering evidence that the robbery of drugs grown within the state borders does not affect interstate commerce, reasoning that the drug dealing effects interstate commerce as a matter of law under United States v. Williams, 342 F.3d 350 (4th Cir. 2003).  After a guilty verdict on the Hobbs Act crimes, the district court dismissed Taylor’s motion to set aside the verdict because the Government failed to offer evidence that Taylor’s actions affected interstate commerce.  Taylor appealed.

The Fourth Circuit reasoned that to show a Hobbs Act crime, the Government must prove that (1) there was a robbery or extortion, and (2) that there was interference with commerce.  United States v. Tillery, 702 F.3d 170, 174 (4th Cir. 2012).  The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that the Hobbs Act should be interpreted broadly.  Stirone v. United States, 361 U.S. 212, 215 (1960).  The Fourth Circuit has previously held that the Government need only prove that the robbery would have a “minimal” effect on interstate commerce.  United States V. Spagnola, 546 F.2d 1117, 1119 (4th Cir. 1976).  The effect could be de minimis, United States v. Buffey, 899 F.2d 1402, 1404 (4th Cir. 1976), and the Government may show an effect on interstate commerce by “proof of probabilities,” United States v. Brantley, 777 F.2d 159, 162 (4th Cir. 1985).  The Hobbs Act violator does not need to intend to effect interstate commerce; rather, the effect can be the “natural, probable consequence of the defendant’s actions.”  Williams, 342 F.3d at 354.  Furthermore, the Court does not consider whether the individual act has an effect, but that the “relevant class of actions” has an impact.  Tillery, 702 F.3d at 174.  The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly determined that Congress may regulate conduct that has an aggregate effect on interstate commerce.  See, e.g., Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, 18–19, 22 (2005); Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111, 128–29 (1942).  The Fourth Circuit has extended this reasoning to violations of the Hobbs Act.  Tillery, 702 F. 3d at 174–75; Williams, 342 F.3d at 355.  The Court found that other circuits agree with this theory as well.  See United States v. Powell, 693 F.3d 398, 402 (3d Cir. 2012); United States v. Robinson, 119 F.3d 1205, 1214 (5th Cir. 1997); United States v. Davis, 473 F.3d 680, 683 (6th Cir. 2007); United States v. Marrero, 299 F.3d 653, 655 (7th Cir. 2002); United States v. Bolton, 68 F.3d 396, 399 (10th Cir. 1995); United States v. Guerra, 164 F.3d 1358, 1361 (11th Cir. 1999).  The Fourth Circuit determined that the legality of the business was irrelevant, and that it is enough that the transactions are commercial enterprises.  The Court also reasoned that, because businesses can be operated out of the home, the fact that the robberies took place in a private residence was not dispositive of whether the Hobbs Act.

The Fourth Circuit held that a jury could reasonably have found that the Government met its burden of showing that the Hobbs Act applies.  First, the jury could have reasonably found that Taylor’s robberies would have an effect on interstate commerce by depleting the drug dealers of assets, known as the depletion of assets theory.  Buffey, 899 F.2d at 1404.  The Court determined in Williams that drug dealing was “an inherently economic enterprise that affects interstate commerce.”  342 F.3d at 355.   There was sufficient evidence at trial to show that Taylor’s victims were drug dealers, and that Taylor took part in the robberies because he expected to find drugs and drug proceeds in the homes.  The stolen items were enough to satisfy the de minimis standard for showing a depletion of assets.  The jury could also reasonably conclude that Taylor had attempted to steal drugs and drug proceeds.  Second, there was evidence to suggest that Taylor intentionally targeted these businesses engaged in interstate commerce, known as the targeting theory.  Although intent is not a necessary required element, intent can be probative of whether the robberies would have the “natural consequence[]” of affecting commerce.  The Fourth Circuit limited its holding to the robbery of businesses which fall under the Hobbs Act.  The Court noted that the Hobbs Act would not apply to the “private citizens in a private residence,” even if some of the stolen assets belonged to a business in interstate commerce.  United States v. Wang, 222 F.3d 234, 240 (6th Cir. 2000) (stating that the Hobbs Act did not apply where the defendant robbed a private residence and happened to steal cash that belonged to the homeowners restaurant business).

Full Opinion

Verona Sheleena Rios