Ocasio v. United States, 578 U.S. ___ (2016)


Issues: , ,

Intro

Contents

NOTE:?Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U.?S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

OCASIO v. UNITED STATES

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fourth circuit

No. 14?361.?Argued October 6, 2015?Decided May 2, 2016

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jdJungle’s One-Sentence Takeaway:?A defendant can be found guilty of conspiracy to violate the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C.?? 1951, with proof that he/she reached an agreement with the owner of the property to obtain that property under color of official right.

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Syllabus

Petitioner Samuel Ocasio, a former police officer, participated in a kickback scheme in which he and other officers routed damaged vehicles from accident scenes to an auto repair shop in exchange for payments from the shopowners. Petitioner was charged with obtaining money from the shopowners under color of official right, in violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.?S.?C. ?1951, and of conspiring to violate the Hobbs Act, in violation of 18 U.?S.?C. ?371. At trial, the District Court rejected petitioner?s argument that?because the Hobbs Act prohibits the obtaining of property ?from another??a Hobbs Act conspiracy requires proof that the alleged conspirators agreed to obtain property from someone outside the conspiracy. Petitioner was convicted on all counts, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. Petitioner now challenges his conspiracy conviction, contending that he cannot be convicted of conspiring with the shopowners to obtain money from them under color of official right.

Held:?A defendant may be convicted of conspiring to violate the Hobbs Act based on proof that he reached an agreement with the owner of the property in question to obtain that property under color of official right. Pp.?5?18.

(a)?The general federal conspiracy statute, under which petitioner was convicted, makes it a crime to ?conspire .?.?. to commit any offense against the United States.? 18 U.?S.?C. ?371. Section 371?s use of the term ?conspire? incorporates age-old principles of conspiracy law. And under established case law, the fundamental characteristic of a conspiracy is a joint commitment to an ?endeavor which, if completed, would satisfy all of the elements of [the underlying substantive] criminal offense.? Salinas v. United States, 522 U. S. 52 . A conspirator need not agree to commit the substantive offense?or even be capable of committing it?in order to be convicted. It is sufficient that the conspirator agreed that the underlying crime be committed by a member of the conspiracy capable of committing it. See id., at 63?65; United States v. Holte, 236 U.?S. 140 ; Gebardi v. United States, 287 U.?S. 112 . Pp.?5?10.

(b)?These basic principles of conspiracy law resolve this case. To establish the alleged Hobbs Act conspiracy, the Government only needed to prove an agreement that some conspirator commit each element of the substantive offense. Petitioner and the shopowners reached just such an agreement: They shared a common purpose that petitioner and other police officers would obtain property ?from another??that is, from the shopowners?under color of official right. Pp.?10?14.

(c)?Contrary to petitioner?s claims, this decision does not dissolve the distinction between extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion. Nor does it transform every bribe of a public official into a conspiracy to commit extortion. And while petitioner exaggerates the impact of this decision, his argument would create serious practical problems. Under his approach, the validity of a charge of Hobbs Act conspiracy would often depend on difficult property-law questions having little to do with culpability. Pp.?14?18.

750 F.?3d 399, affirmed.

Alito, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Breyer, J., filed a concurring opinion. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Sotomayor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Roberts, C.?J., joined.