Law School Case Brief
Ocasio v. United States - 136 S. Ct. 1423 (2016)
In order to establish the existence of a conspiracy to violate the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C.S. § 1951, the Government has no obligation to demonstrate that each conspirator agreed personally to commit—or was even capable of committing—the substantive offense of extortion under the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C.S. § 1951. It is sufficient to prove that the conspirators agreed that the underlying crime be committed by a member of the conspiracy who was capable of committing it. In other words, each conspirator must have specifically intended that some conspirator commit each element of the substantive offense.
Petitioner Samuel Ocasio, a former officer in the Baltimore Police Department, participated in a kickback scheme with the owners of a local auto repair shop. When petitioner and other Baltimore officers reported to the scene of an auto accident, they persuaded the owners of damaged cars to have their vehicles towed to the repair shop, and in exchange for this service the officers received payments from the shopowners. Ocasio was convicted of 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. He challenged his conspiracy conviction, contending that, as a matter of law, he cannot be convicted of conspiring with the shopowners to obtain money from them under color of official right.
In his challenge of his conspiracy conviction, was a local police officer correct when he argued that as a matter of law he cannot be convicted of conspiring with the shop owners to obtain money from them under color of official right?
Under longstanding principles of conspiracy law, a defendant may be convicted of conspiring to violate the Hobbs Act based on proof that he entered into a conspiracy that had as its objective the obtaining of property from another conspirator with his consent and under color of official right. A former police officer was properly convicted of conspiracy to violate the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C.S. § 1951, by routing damaged vehicles from accident scenes to an auto repair shop in exchange for payments from the shop owners because obtaining property of another under color of official right did not require that the payments to the officer be obtained from someone outside the conspiracy. Although the shop owners could not act under color of official right, they were nonetheless conspirators in the extortion scheme since they shared a common purpose with the officer to commit every element of the extortion offense with the shop owners' consent.
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