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Supreme Court: Attempted Hobbs Act Robbery Not a Crime of Violence under 924(c)(3)(A): Taylor

In Taylor, the Supreme Court held that Attempted Hobbs Act Robbery Crimes are not Crimes of Violence under 924(c)(3)(A)

United States v. Taylor, No. 20-1459 (2022)

All, the United States Supreme Court has decided the Taylor case, a case of importance to many. In Taylor, the Supreme Court held that Attempted Hobbs Act Robbery Crimes are not Crimes of Violence under 924(c)(3)(A), otherwise known as the “elements clause.”  This is important because many incarcerated persons were waiting on the outcome of this case before filing for relief on their 924(c) cases.

The Syllabus of the Taylor Case




No. 20–1459. Argued December 7, 2021—Decided June 21, 2022

For his participation in an unsuccessful robbery during which his accomplice shot a man, respondent Justin Taylor faced charges of violating the Hobbs Act, 18 U. S. C. §1951(a), and of committing a “crime of violence” under §924(c). The Hobbs Act makes it a federal crime to commit, attempt to commit, or conspire to commit a robbery with an inter- state component. §1951(a). Section 924(c) authorizes enhanced punishments for those who use a firearm in connection with a “crime of violence” as defined in either §924(c)(3)(A)—known as the elements clause—or §924(c)(3)(B)—known as the residual clause. Before the District Court, the government argued that Taylor’s Hobbs Act offense qualified as a “crime of violence” under §924(c). Taylor ultimately pleaded guilty to one count each of violating the Hobbs Act and §924(c). The District Court sentenced Taylor to 30 years in federal prison—a decade more than the maximum sentence for his Hobbs Act conviction alone. Taylor later filed a federal habeas petition focused on his §924(c) conviction, which was predicated on his admission that he had committed both conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery and at- tempted Hobbs Act robbery. Taylor argued neither Hobbs Act offense qualified as a “crime of violence” for purposes of §924(c) after United States v. Davis, 588 U. S. ___. In Davis, this Court held that §924(c)(3)(B)’s residual clause was unconstitutionally vague. Id., at ___–___. In his habeas proceeding, Taylor asked the court to apply Davis retroactively and vacate his §924(c) conviction and sentence. The government maintained that Taylor’s §924(c) conviction and sentence remained sound because his crime of attempted Hobbs Act robbery qualifies as a crime of violence under the elements clause. The Fourth Circuit held that attempted Hobbs Act robbery does not qualify as a crime of violence under §924(c)(3)(A). The Fourth Circuit vacated Taylor’s §924(c) conviction and remanded the case for resentencing. In reaching its judgment, the Fourth Circuit noted that other courts have held that attempted Hobbs Act robbery does qualify as a crime of violence under the elements clause.

Held: Attempted Hobbs Act robbery does not qualify as a “crime of violence” under §924(c)(3)(A) because no element of the offense requires proof that the defendant used, attempted to use, or threatened to use force. Pp. 3–13.

(a) The Court applies a “categorical approach” to determine whether a federal felony may serve as a predicate for a conviction and sentence under the elements clause, which poses the question whether the fed- eral felony in question “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force.” §924(c)(3)(A) (emphasis added). The relevant inquiry is not how any particular defendant may commit the crime but whether the federal felony at issue always requires the government to prove—beyond a reasonable doubt, as an element of its case—the use, attempted use, or threatened use of force. This Court has long understood similarly worded statutes to demand similarly categorical inquiries. See, e.g., Borden v. United States, 593 U. S. ___, ___.

An attempted Hobbs Act robbery does not satisfy the elements clause. To secure a conviction for attempted Hobbs Act robbery, the government must prove that the defendant intended to complete the offense and that the defendant completed a “substantial step” toward that end. See, e.g., United States v. Resendiz-Ponce, 549 U. S. 102, 107. An intention is just that, no more. And whatever a substantial step requires, it does not require the government to prove that the defend- ant used, attempted to use, or even threatened to use force against another person or his property—even if the facts would allow the government to do so in many cases. As the Model Penal Code explains with respect to the Hobbs Act’s common-law robbery analogue, “there will be cases, appropriately reached by a charge of attempted robbery, where the actor does not actually harm anyone or even threaten harm.” ALI, Model Penal Code §222.1, p. 114. But no element of at- tempted Hobbs Act robbery requires proof that the defendant used, attempted to use, or threatened to use force. Pp. 3–6.

(b) The government’s countervailing arguments fail. Pp. 6–13.
(1) The government first argues that the elements clause encompasses not only any offense that qualifies as a “crime of violence” but also any attempt to commit such a crime. But the elements clause only asks whether the defendant did commit a crime of violence as defined by the statute. Pp. 6–7.

(2) The government next argues that the “substantial step” element of attempted Hobbs Act robbery categorically requires it to prove that a defendant used, attempted to use, or threatened to use physical force. But while many who commit the crime of attempted Hobbs Act robbery do use, attempt to use, or threaten to use force, the government’s problem is that no element of attempted Hobbs Act robbery re- quires the government to prove such facts beyond a reasonable doubt. The government maintains that anyone who takes a substantial step toward completing Hobbs Act robbery always or categorically poses a “threatened use” of force because the word “threat” can be used to speak of an abstract risk. The government submits that the elements clause uses the term to require only an objective, if uncommunicated, threat to community peace and order. But when Congress uses the word “threat” in such an abstract and predictive (rather than communicative) sense, it usually makes its point plain. The textual clues in the statute point in the opposite direction of the government’s reading. Moreover, the government’s view of the elements clause would have it effectively replicate the work formerly performed by the residual clause. Under usual rules of statutory interpretation, the Court does not lightly assume Congress adopts two separate clauses in the same law to perform the same work. See, e.g., Mackey v. Lanier Collection Agency & Service, Inc., 486 U. S. 825, 839, n. 14. Pp. 7–10.

(3) The government’s final theory accepts that a conviction under the elements clause requires a communicated threat of force and contends that most attempted Hobbs Act robbery prosecutions involve exactly that. But whatever this argument proves, the theory cannot be squared with the statute’s terms. Congress in the elements clause did not mandate an empirical inquiry into how crimes are usually commit- ted, let alone impose a burden on the defendant to present proof about the government’s own prosecutorial habits. Attempted Hobbs Act robbery does not categorically require proof of the elements § 924(c)(3)(A) demands. That ends the inquiry, and nothing in Gonzales v. Duenas- Alvarez, 549 U. S. 183, suggests otherwise. Pp. 10–13.

979 F. 3d 203, affirmed.

GORSUCH, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, KAGAN, KAVANAUGH, and BARRETT, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., and ALITO, J., filed dissenting opinions.

A Closer Look:  Who is Impacted by the Taylor case and What Should You Do if Taylor Affects You?

Earlier this week the Supreme Court issued a significant decision in United States v. Taylor holding that attempted Hobbs Act robbery categorically fails to qualify as a crime of violence for 18 U.S.C. 924(c) purposes. This decision not only resolved a major circuit split on the issue, but also has far-reaching implications for other inchoate crimes that are used as a predicate “crimes of violence.” I want to take this opportunity to discuss who may be impacted by the Taylor decision, and what options those individuals may have to seek relief.

Who Does Taylor Impact?

The straightforward answer is individuals who were charged with a 924(c) predicated on attempted Hobbs Act robbery. Remember, the Court’s opinion does not change the validity of the attempted offense–only the 924(c) conviction. If you were not charged with a 924(c), then the decision does not affect the attempted robbery conviction.

The Court reasoned that attempted Hobbs Act robbery is not a crime of violence because the government is not required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the element of use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force. Instead, all the government must prove to achieve a conviction for attempted Hobbs Act robbery is (1) the defendant intended to commit Hobbs Act robbery, and (2) he completed a substantial step. This, according to the Supreme Court, is insufficient to categorically qualify as a crime of violence under 924(c)(3)(A).

But what about other attempt crimes? Bank robbery under 18 U.S.C. 2113 includes language similar to Hobbs Act robbery regarding attempt. And while not every circuit agrees, several have analyzed attempted bank robbery under the Model Penal Code just as the Supreme Court did in Taylor–an intent to commit bank robbery and a substantial step. Logically, then, the same reasoning that makes attempted Hobbs Act robbery not a crime of violence should extend to attempted bank robbery. Just about every circuit has held attempted bank robbery is a crime of violence under 924(c). But the same was true for attempted Hobbs Act robbery until the Fourth Circuit and Supreme Court decisions in Taylor.

Taylor also raises a question about those convicted of aiding and abetting under 18 U.S.C. 2. In Rosemond v. United States, 134 S.Ct. 1240 (2014), the Court held that a defendant may be convicted of aiding and abetting without proof that he participated in every element of the offense. Aiding and abetting requires an intent and undertaking a requisite act–similar to the elements of attempt under the Model Penal Code. If the government does not have to prove the use of violence beyond a reasonable doubt to achieve a conviction for aiding and abetting, then an argument could be made that the logic of Taylor equally applies to 18 U.S.C. 2.

Of course, Taylor was only recently decided, so whether the holding extends to other offenses is something that will have to be litigated.

How Can An Individual Seek Relief Based on Taylor?

Seeking relief based on Taylor is going to be very case-specific and dependent on the procedural posture of your case. If you are in pretrial, pre-sentencing, direct appeal, or on your first timely 2255 motion, then seeking relief should be a relatively straightforward application of Taylor.

However, many people are either well outside the statute of limitations date for filing a 2255 motion, have already filed a 2255 motion, or have had a 2255 motion adversely decided based on this very issue. Remember, most circuits had held that attempted Hobbs Act robbery is a crime of violence prior to Taylor. So what can one do in this situation?

For starters, once a 2255 motion is decided, the district court does not have jurisdiction to alter or amend its judgment except under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59 and 60. But those Rules generally do not allow for a change in law. In addition, I do not think Taylor would be considered a “new rule of constitutional law” that would allow individuals to seek second or successive 2255 relief.

However, Taylor is a statutory-interpretation case that overturns precedent in many circuits. This means that some individuals may be able to claim “actual innocence” of the 924(c) conviction and bring a 2241 petition. There is a catch, though. A writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2241 is full of nuances that vary from circuit to circuit. And some circuits, such as the Eleventh, have essentially abolished the ability to bring a 2241 petition challenging a conviction. But other circuits are more hospitable to 2241 claims. For many people, how you seek relief may very well come down to where you are incarcerated since a 2241 is filed in the district of your incarceration.

If none of the above are available to you, a motion pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A) may be a saving grace. But, again, this depends on the circuit your case is out of. Some circuits have held that sentencing disparity caused by a change in law can be grounds for a sentence reduction under 3582(c)(1)(A). Others have explicitly held otherwise.

Contact our Office With More Questions

Seeking relief based on Taylor may be very difficult for individuals depending on the procedural posture of their case, where they were sentenced, and where they are incarcerated. As I said above, it is a very case-specific inquiry. If you are interested in discussing a potential Taylor-based claim, please contact our office.

If anything here applies to you, contact us today.

At The Law Office of Jeremy Gordon, we fight aggressively for our clients. We are experienced, and know what it takes to present a successful defense in a federal criminal case. For prompt, courteous and skilled representation as your federal criminal defense attorney, contact us today to schedule a free phone consultation.
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