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Taylor v. United States

United States Supreme Court

June 20, 2016

TAYLOR
v.
UNITED STATES

          Argued February 23, 2016

         CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

         Petitioner Taylor was indicted under the Hobbs Act on two counts of

affecting commerce or attempting to do so through robbery for his participation in two home invasions targeting marijuana dealers. In both cases, Taylor and other gang members broke into the homes, confronted the residents, demanded the location of drugs and money, found neither, and left relatively empty handed.
Taylor's trial resulted in a hung jury. At his retrial, the Government urged the trial court to preclude Taylor from offering evidence that the drug dealers he targeted dealt only in locally-grown marijuana. The trial court excluded that evidence and Taylor was convicted on both counts. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that, given the aggregate effect of drug dealing on interstate commerce, the Government needed only to prove that Taylor robbed or attempted to rob a drug dealer of drugs or drug proceeds to satisfy the commerce element.

         Held:

1. The prosecution in a Hobbs Act robbery case satisfies the Act's commerce element if it shows that the defendant robbed or attempted to rob a drug dealer of drugs or drug proceeds. Pp. 4-9.
(a) The language of the Hobbs Act is unmistakably broad and reaches any obstruction, delay, or other effect on commerce, 18 U.S.C. §1951(a), "over which the United States has jurisdiction, " §1951(b)(3). See United States v. Culbert, 435 U.S. 371, 373. Pp. 4-5.
(b) Under its commerce power, this Court has held, Congress may regulate, among other things, activities that have a substantial aggregate effect on interstate commerce, see Wickardv. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111, 125. This includes "purely local activities that are part of an economic 'class of activities' that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce, " Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, 17, so long as those activities are economic in nature. See United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 613. One such "class of activities" is the production, possession, and distribution of controlled substances. 545 U.S., at 22. Grafting the holding in Raich onto the Hobbs Act's commerce element, it follows that a robber who affects even the intrastate sale of marijuana affects commerce over which the United States has jurisdiction. Pp. 5-6.
(c) In arguing that Raich should be distinguished because the Controlled Substances Act lacks the Hobbs Act's additional commerce element, Taylor confuses the standard of proof with the meaning of the element that must be proved. The meaning of the Hobbs Act's commerce element is a question of law, which, Raich establishes, includes purely intrastate drug production and sale. Applying, without expanding, Raich's interpretation of the scope of Congress's Commerce Clause power, if the Government proves beyond a reasonable doubt that a robber targeted a marijuana dealer's drugs or illegal proceeds, the Government has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that commerce over which the United States has jurisdiction was affected. Pp. 6-9.
2. Here, the Government met its burden by introducing evidence that Taylor's gang intentionally targeted drug dealers to obtain drugs and drug proceeds. That evidence included information that the gang members targeted the victims because of their drug dealing activities, as well as explicit statements made during the course of the robberies that revealed their belief that drugs and money were present. Such proof is sufficient to meet the Hobbs Act's commerce element. P. 9.

754 F.3d 217, affirmed.

          ALITO, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

          OPINION

          ALITO JUSTICE

         The Hobbs Act makes it a crime for a person to affect commerce, or to attempt to do so, by robbery. 18 U.S.C. §1951(a). The Act defines "commerce" broadly as interstate commerce "and all other commerce over which the United States has jurisdiction." §1951(b)(3). This case requires us to decide what the Government must prove to satisfy the Hobbs Act's commerce element when a defendant commits a robbery that targets a marijuana dealer's drugs or drug proceeds.

         The answer to this question is straightforward and dictated by our precedent. We held in Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005), that the Commerce Clause gives Congress authority to regulate the national market for marijuana, including the authority to proscribe the purely intrastate production, possession, and sale of this controlled substance. Because Congress may regulate these intrastate activities based on their aggregate effect on interstate commerce, it follows that Congress may also regulate intrastate drug theft. And since the Hobbs Act criminalizes robberies and attempted robberies that affect any commerce "over which the United States has jurisdiction, " §1951(b)(3), the prosecution in a Hobbs Act robbery case satisfies the Act's commerce element if it shows that the defendant robbed or attempted to rob a drug dealer of drugs or drug proceeds. By targeting a drug dealer in this way, a robber necessarily affects or attempts to affect commerce over which the United States has jurisdiction.

         In this case, petitioner Anthony Taylor was convicted on two Hobbs Act counts based on proof that he attempted to rob marijuana dealers of their drugs and drug money. We hold that this evidence was sufficient to satisfy the Act's commerce element.

         I

         Beginning as early as 2009, an outlaw gang called the "Southwest Goonz" committed a series of home invasion robberies targeting drug dealers in the area of Roanoke, Virginia. 754 F.3d 217, 220 (CA4 2014). For obvious reasons, drug dealers are more likely than ordinary citizens to keep large quantities of cash and illegal drugs in their homes and are less likely to report robberies to the police. For participating in two such home invasions, Taylor was convicted of two counts of Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of §1951(a), and one count of using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, in violation of §924(c).

         The first attempted drug robbery for which Taylor was convicted occurred in August 2009. Id., at 220. Taylor and others targeted the home of Josh Whorley, having obtained information that Whorley dealt "exotic and high grade" marijuana. Ibid. "The robbers expected to find both drugs and money" in Whorley's home. Ibid. Taylor and the others broke into the home, searched it, and assaulted Whorley and his girlfriend. They demanded to be told the location of money and drugs but, not locating any, left with only jewelry, $40, two cell phones, and a marijuana cigarette. Ibid.

         The second attempted drug robbery occurred two months later in October 2009 at the home of William Lynch. Ibid. A source informed the leader of the gang that, on a prior occasion, the source had robbed Lynch of 20 pounds of marijuana in front of Lynch's home. The gang also received information that Lynch continued to deal drugs. Taylor and others broke into Lynch's home, held his wife and young children at gunpoint, assaulted his wife, and demanded to know the location of his drugs and money. Again largely unsuccessful, the robbers made off with only a cell phone. Id., at 221.

         For his participation in these two home invasions, Taylor was indicted under the Hobbs Act on two counts of affecting commerce or attempting to do so through robbery. App. 11a-13a. His first trial resulted in a hung jury. On retrial, at the urging of the Government, the District Court precluded Taylor from introducing evidence that the drug dealers he targeted might be dealing in only locally grown marijuana. Id., at 60a; see 754 F.3d, at 221. During the second trial, Taylor twice moved for a judgment of acquittal on the ground that the prosecution had failed to meet its burden on the commerce element, Tr. 445-447, 532-533; see 754 F.3d, at 221, but the District Court denied those motions, holding that the proof that Taylor attempted to rob drug dealers was sufficient as a matter of law to satisfy that element. Tr. 446, 532-533. The jury found Taylor guilty on both of the Hobbs Act counts and one of the firearms counts. App. 67a-69a.

         On appeal, Taylor challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to prove the commerce element of the Hobbs Act, but the Fourth Circuit affirmed. "Because drug dealing in the aggregate necessarily affects interstate commerce, " the court reasoned, "the government was simply required to prove that Taylor depleted or attempted to deplete the assets of such an operation." 754 F.3d, at 224.

         We granted certiorari to resolve a conflict in the Circuits regarding the demands of the Hobbs Act's commerce element in cases involving the theft of drugs and drug proceeds from drug dealers. 576 U.S. ___(2015).

         II

         A

         The Hobbs Act provides in ...


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