(CN) - The Supreme Court agreed to look at whether, in a case under the Hobbs Act, the government must prove that the robbery of a drug dealer actually affects interstate commerce.
The Hobbs Act, enacted in 1946, states that anyone who delays or otherwise affects commerce by robbery or extortion, or conspires to do so, will be subject to fines, up to 20 years in prison, or both, on each count.
David Anthony Taylor was indicted on July 26, 2012, on multiple charges of affecting interstate commerce when he robbed a drug dealer, identified in court documents as Whitney Lynch, of marijuana, drug proceeds and a cellphone in August 2009.
At the time, the documents said, Taylor was a member of the "Southwest Goonz," a gang that specialized in robbing drug dealers, who in knew both kept drugs and drug proceeds in their homes, and, because of their activities, would be reluctant to report the robberies to the police.
Taylor's first trial resulted in a hung jury. But a second jury convicted him on July 25, 2013, and he was sentenced to 28 years in prison, three years supervised release and a $1,000 fine.
Taylor appealed, contending both that the government failed to introduce sufficient evidence to establish that his robberies affected interstate commerce, and that the district court erred by preventing him from showing that the particular drugs he tried to steal did not affect interstate commerce.
But the Fourth Circuit held that because drug dealing in the aggregate necessarily affects interstate commerce, the government was simply required to prove that Taylor deplete or attempted to deplete the assets of such an operation.
It also held that "sufficient evidence was adduced at trial for a rational jury to find that Whorley was a drug dealer and that Taylor depleted or attempted to deplete his assets during the August 27 robbery."
"This is not to imply that the reach of the Hobbs Act is without limits," the Fourth Circuit said. "All robberies are disruptive, but not every disruption is an obstruction of commerce."
The court noted that the Sixth Circuit has held that the jurisdictional element of the Hobbs Act was not satisfied when the defendant stood convicted of robbing "private citizens in a private residence" of money, some of which just happened to "belong to a restaurant doing business in interstate commerce."
Per its custom, the Supreme Court did not issue any comment in taking up Taylor's case.