U.S. Supreme Court Quotes Model Penal Code
Recently, in United States v. Taylor, No. 20-1459 (June 21, 2022), the U.S. Supreme Court relied on Model Penal Code § 222.1 in holding that an attempted robbery in violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a)—which “makes it a federal crime to commit, attempt to commit, or conspire to commit a robbery with an interstate component”—did not qualify as a “crime of violence” under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)—which “authorizes further punishments for those who use a firearm in connection with a ‘crime of violence.’”
In that case, after a robbery went awry and the defendant’s accomplice shot and killed a man, the government charged the defendant with violating the Hobbs Act and 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), arguing that the defendant’s crime satisfied, among other things, the definition of a “crime of violence” set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(A), also known as the elements clause, which “covers offenses that ‘ha[ve] as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another.’” After the defendant pleaded guilty to violating the Hobbs Act and § 924(c), the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia sentenced him to 30 years in federal prison, which was 10 years more than he would have received for only his Hobbs Act conviction. The defendant filed a federal habeas petition arguing, inter alia, that “his § 924(c) conviction was predicated on his admission that he had committed both conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery and attempted Hobbs Act robbery,” but neither offense constituted a “crime of violence.” The government responded that attempted Hobbs Act robbery qualified as a crime of violence under the elements clause of § 924(c). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated the defendant’s § 924(c) conviction and remanded for resentencing based solely on his Hobbs Act conviction, holding that attempted Hobbs Act robbery did not qualify as a crime of violence under § 924(c)(3)(A), because no element of the crime required the government to prove the use, attempted use, or threatened use of force.
Affirming the Fourth Circuit’s decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that attempted Hobbs Act robbery does not satisfy the elements clause of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), because neither of the two elements the government had to prove in order to succeed in a case of attempted Hobbs Act robbery—that the defendant intended to unlawfully take or obtain personal property by force or threatened force, and that he completed a “substantial step” toward achieving that object—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 his property. Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, writing for the Court, explained that “[a]s the Model Penal Code explains with respect to the Hobbs Act’s common-law robbery analogue, ‘there will be cases, appropriately reached by a charge of attempted robbery, where the actor does not actually harm anyone or even threaten harm,’” quoting Model Penal Code § 222.1. ‘“If, for example, the defendant is apprehended before he reaches his robbery victim and thus before he has actually engaged in threatening conduct, proof of his purpose to engage in such conduct’ can ‘justify a conviction of attempted robbery’ so long as his intention and some other substantial step are present.”
Pointing out that both parties agreed that the Court’s precedents required it to employ a categorical approach when interpreting the elements clause of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), the Court rejected the government’s argument that the “substantial step” element of attempted Hobbs Act robbery required the government to prove that the defendant used, attempted to use, or threatened to use physical force. Citing Model Penal Code § 222.1, the Court emphasized that “no element of attempted Hobbs Act robbery requires the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant used, attempted to use, or even threatened to use force,” because a defendant could be convicted if the robbery attempt was foiled before the defendant was able to use, attempt to use, or threaten use of physical force.
Read the full opinion here.
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