SCOTUScast 5-16-16 featuring Timothy O'Toole
On May 2, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Ocasio v. United States. Former police officer Samuel Ocasio challenged his conviction under the Hobbs Act for conspiracy to commit extortion, which arose from an alleged kickback scheme under which police officers funneled wrecked automobiles to a particular repair shop in exchange for monetary payments. He was charged with obtaining money from the shop owners under color of official right and of conspiring to violate the Hobbs Act. The District Court rejected Ocasio’s argument that a Hobbs Act conspiracy requires proof that the alleged conspirators agreed to obtain property from someone outside the conspiracy. He was convicted on all counts and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the convictions. The question before the Supreme Court was whether a conspiracy to commit extortion requires that the conspirators agree to obtain property from someone outside the conspiracy.
By a vote of 5-3, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Fourth Circuit. Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court, which held that 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. Justice Alito’s opinion was joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan. Justice Breyer filed a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, in which Chief Justice Roberts joined.
To discuss the case, we have Timothy O’Toole, who is a Lawyer at Miller & Chevalier. SCOTUScast 5-13-16 featuring William Haun
On April 27, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in McDonnell v. United States. Robert F. McDonnell, former Governor of Virginia, was convicted in a jury trial of eleven counts of corruption. During the trial, prosecutors sought to prove that McDonnell and his wife Maureen while he was Governor, accepted money and lavish gifts in exchange for efforts to assist a Virginia company in securing state university testing of a dietary supplement the company had developed. The McDonnells, prosecutors argued, took “official action” on behalf of the company in exchange for money, campaign contributions, or other things of value, in violation of various federal statutes. Robert McDonnell was sentenced to two years in prison. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed McDonnell’s conviction, but the U.S. Supreme Court granted his request to remain out of prison until the Court resolves his appeal.
The question before the Supreme Court is whether “official action” under the controlling fraud statutes is limited to exercising actual governmental power, threatening to exercise such power, or pressuring others to exercise such power, and whether the jury must be so instructed; or, if not so limited, whether the Hobbs Act and honest-services fraud statute are unconstitutional.
To discuss the case, we have William J. Haun, who is an associate at Hunton & Williams, LLP. SCOTUScast 5-10-16 featuring Elbert Lin
On January 12, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Bruce v. Samuels. The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 provides that those prisoners qualified to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) must nonetheless pay an initial partial filing fee, set as “20 percent of the greater of” the average monthly deposits in the prisoner’s account or the average monthly balance of the account over the preceding six months. They must then pay the remainder of the fee in monthly installments of “20 percent of the preceding month’s income credited to the prisoner’s account.” The initial partial fee is assessed on a per-case basis, i.e., each time the prisoner files a lawsuit. This case involves a dispute over the calculation of subsequent monthly installment payments when more than one fee is owed. Petitioner Antoine Bruce, a federal inmate, contends that he should only have to pay 20 percent of his monthly income without regard to the number of cases filed for which fees are owed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit disagreed and adopted the per-case approach advocated by the government, in which a prisoner must pay 20 percent of his monthly income for each case he has filed.
Granting certiorari to resolve a split in the Courts of Appeals on this issue, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the judgment of the D.C. Circuit. Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court, holding that monthly installment payments, like the initial partial fee, are to be assessed on a per-case basis.
To discuss the case, we have Elbert Lin, who is the Solicitor General of West Virginia. SCOTUScast 5-6-16 featuring Erin Sheley
On March 1, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Lockhart v. United States. Petitioner Avondale Lockhart pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography. Because Lockhart had a prior state-court conviction for first-degree sexual abuse involving his adult girlfriend, his presentence report concluded that he was subject to a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence enhancement, which is triggered by prior state convictions for crimes “relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor or ward.” Lockhart argued that the limiting phrase “involving a minor or ward” applied to all three state crimes, so his prior conviction did not trigger the enhancement. Disagreeing, the District Court applied the mandatory minimum. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed.
By a vote of 6-2, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Second Circuit. Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the Court, holding that the phrase “involving a minor or ward” in §2252(b)(2) modifies only “abusive sexual conduct.” Thus, Lockhart’s prior conviction for sexual abuse of an adult was encompassed by §2252(b)(2) and the 10-year mandatory minimum applied.
Justice Sotomayor’s majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Alito. Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Breyer joined.
To discuss the case, we have Erin Sheley, who is Assistant Professor at University of Calgary Faculty of Law. Criminal Law & Procedure and Free Speech & Election Law Practice Groups Podcast
On Wednesday, April 27, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Robert F. McDonnell v. United States. The Court will review the public corruption convictions of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to determine whether the definition of “official action” as used in the federal bribery statute, Hobbs Act, and honest-services fraud statute is limited to exercising actual governmental power or the threat or pressure to do so. If the definition is not so limited, the Court will also consider whether the Hobbs Act and honest-services fraud statute are unconstitutional—given that such a broad definition could include political activity protected by the First Amendment. Our experts attended the oral arguments and offered a summary and analysis to Federalist Society members.
- William J. Haun, Associate, Hunton & Williams LLP
- Stephen R. Klein, Attorney, Pillar of Law Institute