The Anti-Racketeering Act or Hobbs Act prescribes heavy criminal penalties for acts of robbery or extortion that affect interstate commerce. To be more specific, the Anti-Racketeering Act or Hobbs Act manifests a purpose to use all the constitutional power Congress has to punish interference with interstate commerce by extortion, robbery, or physical violence[i]. Courts have consistently held that the Hobbs Act must be given an expansive interpretation to cover a wide range of extortionate activity.
The Hobbs Act provides for the criminal punishment of persons who interfere with commerce by the use of threats or violence[ii]. The Act provides that whoever obstructs, delays, or affects commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce, by robbery or extortion, or attempts, conspires, commits or threatens physical violence to any person or property is subject to a fine and/or imprisonment[iii]. It is to be noted that the Anti-Racketeering Act is considered to be constitutional.
There are two essential elements of Hobbs Act[iv]:
- Interference with commerce;
There must be a nexus between the alleged extortionate conduct and interstate commerce[v]. It is to be noted that both elements must be charged. When only one particular kind of commerce is charged, conviction must rest on that particular charge and not another. However, actual extortion and attempted extortion are separate offenses under the Hobbs Act. If a separate and discrete attempted extortion is present, then it must be charged separately[vi].
Generally, legitimate labor activities are not prohibited by the Hobbs Act. However, the ramifications of legitimate labor activities can become unlawful. The Act does not proscribe the use of force to achieve legitimate collective-bargaining demands. The use of force, violence, or fear is not wrongful unless the obtaining of the property itself is wrongful because the alleged extortionist has no lawful claim to that property[vii]. Therefore, the Hobbs Act indicates that extortion can be accomplished through the wrongful use of an actual or threatened force, violence, fear, or under color of official right[viii].
[i] United States v. Bailey, 990 F.2d 119 (4th Cir. S.C. 1993).
[ii] United States v. Blair, 762 F. Supp. 1384 (N.D. Cal. 1991).
[iii] 18 USCS § 1951.
[iv] Stirone v. United States, 361 U.S. 212 (U.S. 1960).
[v] United States v. Blakey, 607 F.2d 779 (7th Cir. Ill. 1979).
[vi] United States v. Blair, 762 F. Supp. 1384 (N.D. Cal. 1991).
[vii] United States v. Russo, 708 F.2d 209 (6th Cir. Mich. 1983).
[viii] United States v. Mulder, 273 F.3d 91 (2d Cir. N.Y. 2001).