July 17, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Hobbs Act Applied to Robbery of Drug Dealer; Co-Conspirator Statements Properly Admitted

The Tenth Circuit published its opinion in United States v. Rutland on Tuesday, January 22, 2013.

Terrence Rutland was convicted in federal district court on robbery, narcotics, and firearm charges. Rutland was prosecuted under the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951, which makes it a federal crime to interfere with interstate commerce by force or threats. Rutland contended his federal conviction for robbery and use of a firearm during a violent felony were invalid, arguing that the robbery of a drug dealer at his home did not interfere with interstate commerce because the dealer was not engaged in a business.

The Tenth Circuit joined the majority of circuits in holding that a robbery of a criminal organization, even if an individual drug dealer, is a robbery of a business for purposes of the Hobbs Act. “To satisfy the Hobbs Act’s jurisdictional requirement, evidence must be adduced showing the illegal drug operation was engaged, either directly or indirectly, in interstate commerce and that the robbery depleted the assets of the drug operation.” The government met those requirements by showing the drug dealer got his drugs from another state and the robbery deprived him of drugs and drug proceeds. The court also rejected Rutland’s argument that the drug dealer was not robbed in his capacity of drug dealer so the Hobbs Act should not apply.

Rutland also argued the district court erred by admitting numerous out-of-court statements as coconspirator statements when there was insufficient evidence of a robbery conspiracy. Rutland did not contest the existence of the drug conspiracy. The Tenth Circuit found that the two conspiracies were closely related and, after applying the four-part Ailsworth test, concluded a robbery conspiracy did exist. The court evaluated the coconspirators’ statements and concluded the out-of-court statements were admissible. As to many of the statements, the declarants testified at trial and were subject to cross-examination so any error admitting them was harmless. The court affirmed Rutland’s convictions.

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