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Interference with Interstate Commerce by Extortion: The Hobbs Act

18 U.S.C. § 1951, commonly referred to as the “The Hobbs Act,” prohibits extortion, and attempts or conspiracies to extort, that in any way or degree obstruct, delay, or affect commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce. “Commerce” is defined in the Act as “all commerce between any point in a state … and any point outside thereof.” 18 U.S.C. § 1951(b)(3). Two elements are essential for a Hobbs Act prosecution: extortion and an effect on commerce. The “[Hobbs] Act speaks in broad language, manifesting a purpose to use all the constitutional power Congress has to punish interference with interstate commerce by extortion, robbery or physical violence.” Thus, as a matter of law the impact on commerce does not need to be substantial; all that is required is minimal impact.” (“[A]n individual defendant’s conduct need not substantially affect commerce precisely because the Hobbs Act regulates general conduct–robberies and extortion–which in the aggregate affects commerce substantially.”) And while the government must show some impact on commerce, there is no requirement that the impact be adverse. Any type of impact will suffice.

To prove a Hobbs Act conspiracy, the government must prove that (1) two or more persons agreed to commit a robbery or extortion encompassed within the Hobbs Act; (2) the defendant knew of the conspiratorial goal; and (3) the defendant voluntarily participated in helping to accomplish the goal.”  In cases where attempted extortion or conspiracy to extort are charged under the Hobbs Act, the interstate nexus may be demonstrated by evidence of potential impact on interstate commerce, or by evidence of actual, de minimis impact. As such, all that the government needs to show in attempts and conspiracy Hobbs Act prosecutions is a realistic probability of an effect, or some actual de minimis effect, on commerce to bring the extortion within the reach of the Hobbs Act. Also, the government does not need to prove an overt act in Hobbs Act conspiracies.

 

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