Hobbs Act Generally
The elements with respect to a violation of the Hobbs Act are as follows:
- Obstruction or effect on interstate commerce.
- An attempt, conspiracy or completed robbery or extortion is committed.
- The use of actual or threatened violence or injury to an individual or property.
Obstruction or Effect on Interstate Commerce
The courts have consistently held that the effect on interstate commerce need only be de minimis. The United States Supreme Court has held that there is no requirement to show under the Hobbs Act that a regulated activity had a substantial effect on interstate commerce. Further, there need not be an actual effect on interstate commerce; it is sufficient if there is a probable or potential impact.
Under the Hobbs Act robbery is defined as broadly, encompassing a taking from the person by actual force as well as by threats of force, violence or injury to person or property. Traditional robberies fall under the scope of the Hobbs Act as long as they have the requisite effect on interstate commerce.
Under the Hobbs Act extortion includes:
- Use of threats of force or injury.
- The purpose of inducing an individual’s consent.
- Or the purpose of securing an individual’s property.
The prosecution is required to show that the defendant’s acts were done with the intent to instill fear into an individual and that the defendant acted in a deliberate manner. Further, inducement may be shown by a demand, custom, or expectation.
There is a distinction between bribery and extortion. Under the Hobbs Act a defendant may only be charged with extortion if bribery occurred instead of extortion, there is no basis for the defendant to be charged under the Hobbs Act. An essential distinction between bribery and extortion is that bribery involves payments to secure a certain occurrence whereas extortion involves payments without which a negative result would occur.
Instilling of Fear in the Individual
Although the instillation of fear in the individual is a necessary element under the Hobbs Act, it is not required that the actual defendant be the one that instills fear. The defendant may intensify or exploit fear instilled in the individual by way of another individual. Moreover, it is not required that the defendant actual be capable of carrying out any threat made to the individual.
Fear of Economic Loss Will Suffice
With respect to extortion under the Hobbs Act, numerous courts have held that a reasonable fear of economic loss can be the basis of an extortion prosecution. Proof of extortion under the Hobbs Act may be established proof that the individual was induced to make the payment by fear of economic loss, where the defendant intended to exploit the fear of the individual and the fear of economic loss was reasonable. The prosecutor must establish that the individual had a reasonable belief, that the defendant had the power to harm the individual, and that the defendant would exploit his power to the individual’s detriment.
Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.