18 U.S. Code § 1951 - Interference with Commerce by Threats or Violence
The Hobbs Act, enacted in 1946 and defined under 18 U.S.C. 1951, prohibits extortion or robbery by using force, violence, fear, or attempting these crimes, affecting interstate or foreign commerce.
This statute was initially designed to target racketeering crime in labor and union disputes. Still, federal prosecutors now commonly use the Hobbs Act to target public corruption crimes.
Simply put, this white-collar law makes it a federal crime for public officials to acquire property under the color of official right, use their position and authority to extort property or make threats to use force, violence, or fear to acquire property.
18 U.S.C. 1951 says, “(a) 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….”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) typically reviews credible allegations of Hobbs Act violation. The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutes federal offenses.
Suppose you are under investigation or indicted for robbery or extortion under federal laws, such as the Hobbs Act. In that case, you are facing severe consequences and need experienced legal representation immediately. Let's review this federal statute further below.
The Hobbs Act - Explained
As noted, the Hobbs Act is a federal law making it illegal for someone to impede or affect interstate commerce by committing robbery or extortion.
In other words, suppose you were charged with robbery or extortion. In that case, a local state prosecutor will determine where your alleged illegal behavior obstructed, delayed, or affected interstate commerce in any way.
18 U.S.C 1951 provides the following definitions for key terms in this statute, such as the following:
- Robbery means the “unlawful taking of personal property from the person or in the presence of another, against his will, by actual or threatened force, or violence, or fear of injury, to his person or property, in his custody or possession, or a relative or member of his family or company at the time of the taking or obtaining.”
- Extortion means the “obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.”
Extortion frequently involves robbery, conspiracy, murder, attempted murder, and other state crimes. To be charged with violating the Hobbs Act requires that the crime affected interstate commerce.
Suppose you are convicted of violating the Hobbs Act. In that case, you face up to 20 years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and fines under the sentencing guidelines.
How Can a Prosecutor Prove a Hobbs Act Violation?
To be convicted of violating the Hobbs Act, a federal prosecutor has to prove all the elements of the crime, beyond any reasonable doubt, including the following:
- The defendant obtained or attempted to obtain property from someone with their consent or conspired to do so;
- The defendant unlawfully used actual or threats of force, violence, fear, or under color of official right;
- The defendant intended to commit a criminal act and affected interstate commerce somehow.
While extortion typically involves violence or threats to the victim, the Hobbs Act could be violated under the color of official rights.
For example, suppose a public official is involved in an alleged Hobbs Act violation. In that case, prosecutors don't have to prove threats were made against the victim. Instead, extortion could be proven just by the nature of their public office.
What Are the Related Federal Laws?
18 U.S. Code Chapter 95 Racketeering has several federal statutes that are related to 18 U.S.C. 1951 interference with commerce by threats or violence, such as the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 1952 – Transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises;
- 18 U.S.C. 1953 – Interstate transportation of wagering paraphernalia;
- 18 U.S.C. 1954 – Solicitation to influence operations of benefit plan;
- 18 U.S.C. 1955 – Prohibition of illegal gambling businesses;
- 18 U.S.C. 1956 – Laundering of monetary instruments;
- 18 U.S.C. 1957 – Engaging in monetary transactions in property;
- 18 U.S.C. 1958 – Use of interstate commerce in murder-for-hire;
- 18 U.S.C. 1959 – Violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity;
- 18 U.S.C. 1960 – Prohibition of money-transmitting businesses.
What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 1951?
Suppose you are accused of a Hobbs Act violation. In that case, a federal criminal defense attorney could use different strategies to obtain the best possible outcome, as discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that your actions did not affect, delay, or obstruct interstate commerce, or they did not extort a person or company. Maybe we can say that you did not use force or fear to induce the victim to give up their property. Perhaps the alleged victim did not suffer a loss, or you did not benefit from the property.
If accused of extortion, which occurs when someone is forced to give up their property by use of threats, perhaps we can say that you didn't do anything illegal or perform an official act to make them give you their property. Perhaps we can argue that you were falsely accused or that there is insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction.
Before a federal indictment, we can take steps to help you avoid having charges filed against you, such as not making any making statements to federal law enforcement agents.
Suppose you received a target letter or a subpoena to produce documentation or provide testimony to a grand jury. Suppose agents searched your home or office. In that case, we know how to protect your rights and will guide you through every step before an indictment is filed.
We understand the specific details of this federal statute and will work through the facts until a defense strategy has been formed. We offer a free case evaluation by phone or using the contact form.
We provide experienced legal representation across the United States on federal criminal matters. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, California.