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Supreme Court Thoughts

Some people like to announce things… to the shock of others. This blog deals with the Supreme Court… and their recent case announcement.

What About Bob was an old Bill Murray movie. Maybe I should have called this blog “Should Bob be worried”, based on Bob McDonnell’s court case that was heard in front of the Supreme Court as the last case of the session.

I thought that the case recited below that was heard by the Court a few weeks before the McDonnell appeal might have some analogy; but hopefully for Bob… not similarity. So, here’s some court stuff:

This Supreme Court opinion dealt with the facts of a lower court criminal case, involving a Baltimore body shop, that gave kickbacks to police officers who referred drivers with crashed and damaged cars.

In a 5-3 decision,  the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that although the defendant police officer  did not try to take anything from third parties, he could still be convicted of conspiracy to commit extortion under the Hobbs Act.

Several times between 2009 and 2011,  Officer Samuel Ocasio, while on duty, encouraged auto accident victims to take their cars to the Majestic Auto Repair Shop. The shop reportedly paid police officers a referral fee of between $150 and $300 for each referral. Officer Ocasio was  caught and convicted of three counts of extortion and one count of conspiracy.

His attorneys argued that he could not be charged with conspiring with the owners to get the payments, because a conspiracy conviction would need proof that they tried to extort property from a third party.

The Supreme Court majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, found that because Ocasio was acting  as a public officer while reaching an agreement with  body shop owners to get cash payments,  and that the conviction should stand. He was joined in the majority by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. Their opinion in part read:

In order to establish the existence of a conspiracy to violate the Hobbs Act, the government has no obligation to demonstrate that each conspirator agreed personally to commit—or was even capable of committing—the substantive offense of Hobbs Act extortion,” Alito wrote. “It is sufficient to prove that the conspirators agreed that the underlying crime be committed by a member of the conspiracy who was capable of committing it.”

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in dissent:

Under a correct understanding of Hobbs Act extortion, it is illogical and wrong to say that two people conspired to extort one of themselves. As explained, in a Hobbs Act extortion case, the only perpetrator is the public official; the payor is a victim and not a participant.”

Another dissent opinion by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts disagreed with the majority’s interpretation of the Hobbs Act. When conspirators want to extort something from someone, she reasoned, they frequently look for victims outside their group.

“’ I But in upholding the conspiracy conviction here, the Court interprets the phrase extorting property ‘from another’ in the Hobbs Act contrary to that natural understanding,” Sotomayor wrote. “It holds that a group of conspirators  can agree to obtain property ‘from another’ in violation of the act even if they agree only to transfer property among themselves. That is not a natural or logical way to interpret the phrase ‘from another’ I respectfully dissent.”

I wonder if that gives us any insight into how the court will rule on our former Governor’s conviction, here in Virginia. Former Governor McDonnell needs those same 5 votes to go his way. A 4-4 tie will only serve to reaffirm his conviction. Like all politicians…he is still looking for the votes.

Court opinions are based on what? Not mood and attitude. As some coaches used to say about how hard practice was going to be, “It’s based on mood and attitude. My mood and your attitude”.

That leads me to our pic o’ day… and some body shop sign humor:

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