__ U.S. __ (2016), 14-361, Ocasio v. United States

Docket Nº:14-361
Citation:__ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 1423, 194 L.Ed.2d 520, 84 U.S.L.W. 4245
Opinion Judge:Alito, Justice
Party Name:Samuel Ocasio, Petitioner v. United States
Attorney:Ethan P. Davis argued the cause for petitioner. Donald B. Verrilli Jr. argued the cause for respondents. Allon Kedem argued the cause for respondents.
Judge Panel:Alito, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Breyer, J., filed a concurring opinion. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Sotomayor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Roberts, C. J., joined. Breyer, Justice, concurring. Thoma...
Case Date:May 02, 2016
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page __

__ U.S. __ (2016)

136 S.Ct. 1423, 194 L.Ed.2d 520, 84 U.S.L.W. 4245, 26 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 116

Samuel Ocasio, Petitioner

v.

United States

No. 14-361

United States Supreme Court

May 2, 2016

[136 S.Ct. 1424] Argued October 6, 2015

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

SYLLABUS

[136 S.Ct. 1425] [194 L.Ed.2d 522] Petitioner Samuel Ocasio, a former police officer, participated in a kickback scheme in which he and other officers routed damaged vehicles from accident scenes to an auto repair shop in exchange for payments from the shopowners. Petitioner [136 S.Ct. 1426] was charged with obtaining money from the shopowners under color of official right, in violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951, and of conspiring to violate the Hobbs Act, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. At trial, the District Court rejected petitioner's argument that--because the Hobbs Act prohibits the obtaining of property " from another" --a Hobbs Act conspiracy requires proof that the alleged conspirators agreed to obtain property from someone outside the conspiracy. Petitioner was convicted on all counts, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. Petitioner now challenges his conspiracy conviction, contending that he cannot be convicted of conspiring with the shopowners to obtain money from them under color of official right.

Held :

A defendant may be convicted of conspiring to violate the Hobbs Act based on proof that he reached an agreement with the owner of the property in question to obtain that property under color of official right. Pp. ___-___, 194 L.Ed.2d, at 525-534.

(a) The general federal conspiracy statute, under which petitioner was convicted, makes it a crime to " conspire . . . to commit any offense [194 L.Ed.2d 523] against the United States." 18 U.S.C. § 371. Section 371's use of the term " conspire" incorporates age-old principles of conspiracy law. And under established case law, the fundamental characteristic of a conspiracy is a joint commitment to an " endeavor which, if completed, would satisfy all of the elements of [the underlying substantive] criminal offense." Salinas v. United States, 522 U.S. 52, 65, 118 S.Ct. 469, 139 L.Ed.2d 352. A conspirator need not agree to commit the substantive offense--or even be capable of committing it--in order to be convicted. It is sufficient that the conspirator agreed that the underlying crime be committed by a member of the conspiracy capable of committing it. See id., at 63-65, 118 S.Ct. 469, 139 L.Ed.2d 352; United States v. Holte, 236 U.S. 140, 35 S.Ct. 271, 59 L.Ed. 504; Gebardi v. United States, 287 U.S. 112, 53 S.Ct. 35, 77 L.Ed. 206. Pp. ___-___, 194 L.Ed.2d, at 526-529.

(b) These basic principles of conspiracy law resolve this case. To establish the alleged Hobbs Act conspiracy, the Government only needed to prove an agreement that some conspirator commit each element of the substantive offense. Petitioner and the shopowners reached just such an agreement: They shared a common purpose that petitioner and other police officers would obtain property " from another" --that is, from the shopowners--under color of official right. Pp. ___-___, 194 L.Ed.2d, at 529.

(c) Contrary to petitioner's claims, this decision does not dissolve the distinction between extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion. Nor does it transform every bribe of a public official into a conspiracy to commit extortion. And while petitioner exaggerates the impact of this decision, his argument would create serious practical problems. Under his approach, the validity of a charge of Hobbs Act conspiracy would often depend on difficult property-law questions having little to do with culpability. Pp. ___-___, 194 L.Ed.2d, at 529-533.

750 F.3d 399, affirmed.

Ethan P. Davis argued the cause for petitioner.

Donald B. Verrilli Jr. argued the cause for respondents.

Allon Kedem argued the cause for respondents.

Alito, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Breyer, J., filed a concurring opinion. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Sotomayor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Roberts, C. J., joined.

OPINION

[136 S.Ct. 1427] Alito, Justice

Petitioner Samuel Ocasio, a former officer in the Baltimore Police Department, participated in a kickback scheme with the owners of a local auto repair shop. When petitioner and other Baltimore officers reported to the scene of an auto accident, they persuaded the owners of damaged cars to have their vehicles towed to the repair shop, and in exchange for this service the officers received payments from the shopowners. Petitioner was convicted of obtaining money from the shopowners under color of official right, in violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951, and of conspiring to violate the Hobbs Act, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. He now challenges his conspiracy conviction, contending that, as a matter of law, he cannot be convicted of conspiring with the shopowners to obtain money from [194 L.Ed.2d 524] them under color of official right. We reject this argument because it is contrary to age-old principles of conspiracy law.

I

Hernan Alexis Moreno Mejia (known as Moreno) and Edwin Javier Mejia (known as Mejia) are brothers who co-owned and operated the Majestic Auto Repair Shop (Majestic). In 2008, Majestic was struggling to attract customers, so Moreno and Mejia made a deal with a Baltimore police officer, Jhonn Corona. In exchange for kickbacks, Officer Corona would refer motorists whose cars were damaged in accidents to Majestic for towing and repairs. Officer Corona then spread the word to other members of the force, and eventually as many as 60 other officers sent damaged cars to Majestic in exchange for payments of $150 to $300 per referral.

Petitioner began to participate in this scheme in 2009. On several occasions from 2009 to 2011, he convinced accident victims to have their cars towed to Majestic. Often, before sending a car to Majestic, petitioner called Moreno from the scene of an accident to ensure that the make and model of the car, the extent of the damage, and the car's insurance coverage would allow the shopowners to turn a profit on the repairs. After directing a vehicle to Majestic, petitioner would call Moreno and request his payment.

[136 S.Ct. 1428] Because police are often among the first to arrive at the scene of an accident, the Baltimore officers were well positioned to route damaged vehicles to Majestic. As a result, the kickback scheme was highly successful: It substantially increased Majestic's volume of business and profits, and by early 2011 it provided Majestic with at least 90% of its customers.

Moreno, Mejia, petitioner, and nine other Baltimore officers were indicted in 2011. The shopowners and most of the other officers eventually pleaded guilty pursuant to plea deals, but petitioner did not.

In a superseding indictment, petitioner was charged with three counts of violating the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951, by extorting money from Moreno with his consent and under color of official right. As all parties agree, the type of extortion for which petitioner was convicted--obtaining property from another with his consent and under color of official right--is the " rough equivalent of what we would now describe as 'taking a bribe.'" Evans v. United States, 504 U.S. 255, 260, 112 S.Ct. 1881, 119 L.Ed.2d 57 (1992). To prove this offense, the Government " need only show that a public official has obtained a payment to which he was not entitled, knowing that the payment was made in return for official acts." Id., at 268, 112 S.Ct. 1881, 119 L.Ed.2d 57.

Petitioner and another Baltimore officer, Kelvin Quade Manrich, were also charged with violating the general federal conspiracy statute, 18 U.S.C. § 371. The indictment alleged that petitioner and Manrich conspired with Moreno, Mejia, and other Baltimore officers to bring about the same sort of substantive violations with which petitioner was charged.

Before trial, petitioner began to raise a variant of the legal argument that has brought his case to this Court. He sought a jury instruction stating that " [i]n order to convict a [194 L.Ed.2d 525] defendant of conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the conspiracy was to obtain money or property from some person who was not a member of the conspiracy." App. 53. In support of this instruction, petitioner relied on the Sixth Circuit's decision in United States v. Brock, 501 F.3d 762 (2007), which concerned two bail bondsmen who made payments to a court...

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