Thursday, December 20, 2012

$100 Robbery Sufficient to Sustain Hobbs Act Conviction

US v. Tillery: A man with a gun robbed a dry cleaner's in Petersburg, Virginia, taking a small amount of cash and the clerk's laptop.  After he left, the clerk ran to the barbershop next door for help.  Later that month, someone came to the barber shop and sold the owner a laptop, which turned out to be the one taken from the clerk.  The owner identified Tillery from a photo array as the one who sold him the laptop.  The clerk then identified Tillery as the man who committed the robbery.  A few months later, an officer recovered two shotguns from an abandoned motel, next to a motel where Tillery lived at the time of the robbery.   Tillery was in jail at the time and described the robbery and where he kept his guns to his cellmate in "shocking detail."  He was charged and convicted of a Hobbs Act robbery and brandishing a firearm in connection with a crime of violence, then sentenced to a combined term of 360 months in prison.

On appeal, Tillery challenged both his convictions and sentence, all of which the Fourth Circuit affirmed.  First, Tillery argued that the robbery did not meet the Hobbs Act threshold of having a "minimal effect" on interstate commerce, because it only resulted in the theft of $100.  The court disagreed, noting that a robbery has a "minimal effect" if it depletes the assets of an inherently economic enterprise and that in making that determination it is not the individual act that matter, but rather the "relevant class of actions" and the impact they have on interstate commerce.  The robbery in this case met that burden.  Second, Tillery argued that the evidence was insufficient to convict him on either count.  The court disagreed, concluding that there was ample evidence aside from the clerk's identification of him as the robber (including the "damning testimony" of his cellmate) to support a conviction.  Finally, Tillery argued that he was improperly classified as a career offender because a prior conviction for eluding police was not a "crime of violence."  The court disagreed, noting that it had previously held that any "intentional vehicular flight" is a violent felony.

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