In Taylor v. United States , decided June 20, 2016, by a 7-1 vote, with the exception of Justice Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court gave all conscientious, sentencing-reform-minded folks swift kick in the pants, reported JURIST.
As summarized by scotusblog.com, Taylor holds that,
"Because the Hobbs Act criminalizes robberies and attempted robberies that affect any commerce 'over which the US has jurisdiction,' the prosecution in a Hobbs Act robbery case satisfies the act's commerce element if it shows that the defendant robbed or attempted to rob a drug dealer of drugs or drug proceeds."
"The Hobbs Act makes it a crime for a person to affect commerce, or to attempt to do so, by robbery. In an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, the Court found that because Congress has the power to regulate the marijuana under the Commerce Clause, Congress may also regulate drug theft. 'By targeting a drug dealer in this way, a robber necessarily affects or attempts to affect commerce over which the United States has jurisdiction.'"
Justice Clarence Thomas filed a dissenting opinion. He would 'hold that the Act punishes a robbery only when the government proves that the robbery itself affected interstate commerce.'"
Respectfully, we submit that in his dissent in Taylor, Justice Thomas is the lone Justice to get it right. (And, one has to wonder if his position might have carried more weight= —maybe even the day= —had it had the backing of a still-alive, formidable and feisty, Justice Scalia).
In his dissent, Justice Thomas writes: "When courts construe criminal statutes" it goes without saying that, "they must be especially careful. And when a broad reading of a criminal statute would upset federalism, courts must be more careful still."
Thomas concludes that the majority opinion "fails to identify the language in the Hobbs Act that" unequivocally evidences "Congress' intention to reach the sorts of local, small-scale robberies that States traditionally prosecute."
Taylor was convicted of two separate robberies of low-level marijuana dealers. The underwhelming spoils of Taylor's crimes: three cell phones, $40, some jewelry, and a marijuana cigarette= —hardly, one would think, reason to invoke federal prosecution under the Hobbs Act= —with each charged Hobbs Act violation exposing Taylor to up to 20 years in federal prison (where under federal sentencing law he will have to serve a minimum of 85 percent of his sentence, even with credit for good behavior).
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