U.S. Supreme Court Cites Model Criminal Code

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U.S. Supreme Court Cites Model Criminal Code

Recently, in United States vs. TaylorNo. 20-1459 (June 21, 2022), the United States Supreme Court relied on Section 222.1 of the Model Penal Code to conclude that attempted theft in violation of Hobbs Law, 18 USC § 1951 (a) – which “makes it a federal crime to commit, attempt to commit, or conspire to commit theft with an interstate component” – was not considered a “felony of violence” under 18 USC § 924 (c ) – which “allows alternative penalties for those who use a firearm in a ‘violent crime’.

In this case, after a robbery went wrong and the defendant’s accomplice shot and killed a man, the government charged the defendant with violating Hobbs Law and 18 USC § 924(c), arguing that the defendant’s crime satisfied, among other things, the definition of a “crime of violence” set forth in 18 USC § 924(c)(3)(A), also known as the Elements Clause, which ‘covers offenses which ‘ha[ve] as an element the use, attempted use, or threat of use of physical force against the person or property of another. After the defendant pleaded guilty to violating Hobbs Law and Section 924(c), the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia sentenced him to 30 years in federal prison, an additional 10 years than what he would have received for his Hobbs Act conviction alone. The defendant filed a federal habeas petition arguing, among other things, that “his conviction under section 924(c) was based on his admission that he had committed both a conspiracy to commit a Hobbs law robbery and an attempted Hobbs law robbery”, but neither offense constituted a “crime of violence”. The government responded that the attempted robbery under the Hobbs Act qualified as a crime of violence under the elements clause of s. 924(c). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned the defendant’s 924(c) conviction and remanded him for re-sentencing based solely on his conviction under Hobbs Law, holding that attempted robbery under Hobbs Law was not considered a crime of violence under s. 924(c)(3)(A), because no element of the crime did not require the government to prove the use, attempted use, or threat of use of force.

Upholding the Fourth Circuit’s decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the attempted theft under the Hobbs Act failed to satisfy the elements clause of 18 USC § 924(c), because neither of the two elements that the government did not have to prove to succeed in an attempted theft case under the Hobbs Law – that the defendant intended to take or unlawfully obtain personal property by force or threat of force, and that he taken a “substantial step” towards achieving that goal – required the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant used, attempted to use, or threatened to use force against another person or their property . Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, writing for the Court, explained that “[a]As the Model Penal Code explains with respect to the common law theft analogue of Hobbs Law, “there will be cases, duly reached by a charge of attempted theft, where the actor does not harm to any person or even threaten to harm,” citing Model Penal Code § 222.1. “If, for example, the accused is apprehended before he reaches his robbery victim and therefore before he has actually engaged in threatening conduct, evidence of his intent to engage in such conduct” may “justify a conviction for attempted theft” so long as his intent and another substantial step are present.

Emphasizing that both parties agreed that the Court’s precedent required it to take a categorical approach when interpreting the Elements Clause of 18 USC § 924(c), the Court rejected the government’s argument that which the “substantial step” element of attempted robbery under Hobbs Law required the government to prove that the accused used, attempted to use, or threatened to use physical force. Citing Article 222.1 of the Model Penal Code, the Court noted that “no element of attempted robbery under the Hobbs Act requires the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused used, attempted to use, or even threatened to use force”, because an accused could be convicted if the attempted was foiled before the accused could use, attempt to use, or threaten to use physical force.

Read the full review here.

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