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What crimes can lead to Hobbs Act charges?


The Hobbs Act is a pretty serious federal law that can lead to some prety serious charges. It’s used to go after all kinds of crimes–from corruption and bribery, to robbery and extortion. Basically if you’re doing something shady that affects interstate commerce, you could potentially get slapped with Hobbs Act charges.
In this article, we’ll break down exactly what kinds of crimes can lead to Hobbs Act charges. We’ll try to keep it simple and conversational, more like we’re just chatting over coffee instead of a stuffy legal textbook. There might even be some typos and grammar mistakes sprinkled throughout becuase, hey, no one’s perfect!

Extortion and Robbery

The two main things the Hobbs Act targets are extortion and robbery.
Extortion is when you force someone to give you money or something else of value through threats or pressure. For example, saying “Nice business you got there, would be a shame if something happened to it…unless you pay me $5,000 per month in ‘insurance.'” That’s extortion, baby.
Robbery is similar except it usually involves actual or threatened physical force. So if you walk into a bank with a gun and demand all the money, that’s robbery. No subtlety there.
So if you’re extorting or robbing someone and it affects interstate commerce (more on that later), you could be looking at some Hobbs Act charges.

Bribery and Public Corruption

The Hobbs Act gets used a lot to go after bribery and public corruption. If you’re a public official and you’re taking bribes or kickbacks in exchange for official acts, you’re almost certainly looking at potential Hobbs Act charges.
For example, if you’re a state legislator and a construction company gives you $100,000 to award them a lucrative highway contract, that’s bribery and extortion under color of official right. Or if you’re a city inspector and you require businesses to pay you “inspection fees” that go straight into your pocket before you’ll approve their permits, that could also violate the Hobbs Act.
Basically if you have any kind of public trust or official capacity, and you abuse that power for personal gain, the feds can come after you with some Hobbs Act charges. Because that affects public confidence in government and interstate commerce (and also it’s just wrong–shame on you!).

Labor Racketeering

Another big area for Hobbs Act charges is labor racketeering. This is when there’s corruption or criminal activity within a labor union.
For example, if the leadership of a big construction workers union extorts money from contractors by threatening labor strikes unless they pay kickbacks, that can violate the Hobbs Act. Or if the mob is running a union and embezzling pension funds through fraud or extortion, that’s labor racketeering and can also lead to Hobbs Act charges.
Basically if there’s corruption or organized criminal activity going on within a labor union, the Department of Justice often brings charges under the Hobbs Act.

What Makes Something a Hobbs Act Crime?

Ok so we’ve talked about some of the common crimes that lead to Hobbs Act charges–extortion, robbery, bribery, public corruption, labor racketeering. But what exactly makes something a Hobbs Act crime?
There’s two key elements that need to be present:
There was extortion, robbery, or an attempt or conspiracy to commit extortion or robbery.
The activity affected interstate or foreign commerce.
That second part is important. The criminal activity has to have some effect–even a minor one–on interstate commerce. This is how the federal government gets jurisdiction to bring charges under the Hobbs Act.
For example, if you extort a local restaurant, that business likely purchases ingredients from out-of-state suppliers which affects interstate commerce. Or if you bribe an Oklahoma state official, that undermines public confidence in government which impacts interstate commerce.
The effect doesn’t have to be huge. Even a minor impact is enough to qualify and charge someone under the Hobbs Act. So that’s something to keep in mind.

What Are the Penalties?

Ok so you got caught doing something shady and now you’re facing potential Hobbs Act charges. What kind of penalties are you looking at?
Well, let’s just say they’re pretty steep:
Up to 20 years in federal prison. Yikes!
Fines up to $250,000. Start digging deep into those pockets!
Forfeiture of assets obtained from the crime. Bye bye ill-gotten gains!
And that’s per count! So if you get indicted on multiple Hobbs Act charges, those penalties stack up in a hurry.
You can even get life in prison if the extortion leads to kidnapping, sexual assault, or death.
All in all, you want to avoid Hobbs Act charges at all costs. Major bad news.

Defenses and Challenges

Ok so you got caught up in something sketchy and now you’re facing Hobbs Act charges. What can you do?
Well, first thing is don’t panic. Hire a lawyer who has experience with federal cases and Hobbs Act defenses. Some common challenges include:
No effect on interstate commerce – Argue that your activities were purely local in nature and had no impact on interstate commerce. This punches a hole in federal jurisdiction.
Coercion or duress – Claim you were coerced into committing the crime through threats against yourself or loved ones. This can achieve acquittal or sentencing leniency.
Entrapment – Argue you were illegally induced or entrapped by government agents into committing the crime. This is an uphill battle but could lead to acquittal.
Statute of limitations – Federal indictments must be brought within 5 years of an alleged Hobbs Act violation. If it’s been longer, statute of limitations has expired.
Other challenges can include improper venue, challenging evidence/witnesses, or even highlighting positives about your character to the judge at sentencing in hopes of reducing jail time.
An experienced attorney knows all the ins and outs of mounting a strong defense against Hobbs Act charges. So make sure you get good legal representation!

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
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Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
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The Bottom Line

The Hobbs Act is serious business. If you’re caught extorting, robbing, bribing, or otherwise messing with interstate commerce, you could be looking at major federal charges.
Don’t panic, but also don’t wait to connect with an attorney who can advise the best defense strategy for your specific situation. And maybe try to avoid doing shady stuff in the first place, ya know? Keep your nose clean and stay out of trouble!
But if you do wind up in hot water, know that an experienced lawyer can help protect your rights every step of the way.

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