U.S. v. Taylor: Attempted Hobbs Act robbery not a “crime of violence” under ACCA
Attempted Hobbs Act robbery is not a “crime of violence” under the Armed Career Criminal Act, so cannot enhance sentence, the U.S. Supreme Court held June 21 in United States v. Taylor.
Justin Taylor was involved in a robbery that “went awry,” and his accomplice shot and killed a man.
Taylor pleaded guilty to attempted Hobbs Act robbery and violation of Sec. 924(c)(3)(A).
The Hobbs Act makes it a federal crime to commit, attempt to commit, or conspire to commit a robbery with an interstate component. Sec. 924(c) creates a second felony and enhances punishment for using a firearm in connection with a “crime of violence.”
Sec. 924(c) makes an offense a “crime of violence” in one of two ways. First, the “elements clause” covers offenses that have as an element “the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force” against persons or property. The “residual clause” covers offenses that by their nature involve “a substantial risk that physical force” may be used.
Taylor conceded his offense involved a “crime of violence.” He was convicted under Sec. 924(c) as a result, and received an enhanced sentence.
Later, after the Supreme Court declared the “residual clause” unconstitutionally vague in U.S. v. Davis in 2019, Taylor filed a habeas corpus petition, in which he challenged the “crime of violence” conviction and enhancement under Sec. 924(c).
The Fourth Circuit ultimately agreed with Taylor, and vacated his Sec. 924(c) conviction. The Fourth Circuit held attempted Hobbs Act robbery is not a “crime of violence” under the “elements clause” because no element of the offense requires the Government to prove the defendant used, attempted to use, or threatened the use of force.
The Supreme Court granted cert. to resolve a circuit split.
The Court, in a 7-2 opinion, held that attempted Hobbs Act robbery is not a “crime of violence.”
To determine whether a felony qualifies under the “elements clause,” the courts must apply a “categorical approach,” the Court said.
This precludes any inquiry into how the defendant committed the crime, the Court said.
Instead, the “only relevant question is whether the federal felony at issue always requires the government to prove – beyond a reasonable doubt, as an element of its case – the use, attempted use, or threatened use of force,” the Court said.
“[T]o win a case for attempted Hobbs Act robbery the government must prove two things: (1) The defendant intended to unlawfully take or obtain personal property by means of actual or threatened force, and (2) he completed a ‘substantial step’ toward that end,” the Court said.
“To know that much is to resolve this case,” the Court said. “Whatever one might say about completed Hobbs Act robbery, attempted Hobbs Act robbery does not satisfy the elements clause.”
“Yes, to secure a conviction the government must show an intention to take property by force or threat, along with a substantial step toward achieving that object,” the Court said. “But an intention is just that, and no more.”
“And whatever a substantial step requires, it does not require the government to prove that the defendant used, attempted to use, or even threatened to use force against another person or his property,” the Court said.
“The upshot of all this for our case is clear,” the Court concluded. “Mr. Taylor may be lawfully subject to up to 20 years in federal prison for his Hobbs Act conviction.”
“But as the Fourth Circuit recognized, Congress has not authorized courts to convict and sentence him to a decade further of imprisonment under Sec. 924(c)(3)(A).”
Justices Thomas and Alito dissented, in separate opinions.
Justice Thomas would abandon the Court’s use of the “categorical approach,” “overrule Davis,” and “adopt in its place the conduct-based approach that the Davis dissent described.”