United States v. Culbert, No. 77-142

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtMARSHALL
Citation55 L.Ed.2d 349,435 U.S. 371,98 S.Ct. 1112
Docket NumberNo. 77-142
Decision Date28 March 1978
PartiesUNITED STATES, Petitioner, v. Donald Lavern CULBERT

435 U.S. 371
98 S.Ct. 1112
55 L.Ed.2d 349
UNITED STATES, Petitioner,

v.

Donald Lavern CULBERT.

No. 77-142.
Argued Jan. 11, 1978.
Decided March 28, 1978.
Syllabus

Respondent was convicted under the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951, of attempting to obtain money from a federally insured bank by means of threats of violence to its president. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Government had failed to prove that respondent's conduct constituted "racketeering," which in its view was a necessary element of a Hobbs Act offense. Held: The plain language and legislative history of the statute make clear that Congress did not intend to limit the statute's scope by reference to an undefined category of conduct termed "racketeering," but rather that Congress intended to reach all conduct within the express terms of the statute. Pp. 373-380.

548 F.2d 1355, reversed.

Sara S. Beale, Ann Arbor, Mich., for petitioner.

James F. Hewitt, San Francisco, for respondent.

Mr. Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent was convicted of violating the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (1976 ed.), which provides in relevant part:

"Whoever in any way or degree obstructs, delays, or affects commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce, by robbery or extortion or attempts or conspires so to do, or commits or threatens physical

Page 372

violence to any person or property in furtherance of a plan or purpose to do anything in violation of this section shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both." § 1951 (a).

The question in this case is whether the Government not only had to establish that respondent violated the express terms of the Act, but also had to prove that his conduct constituted "racketeering."

The evidence at respondent's jury trial showed that he and an accomplice attempted to obtain $100,000 from a federally insured bank by means of threats of physical violence made to the bank's president. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, with one judge dissenting, reversed the Hobbs Act conviction,1 holding that, " 'although an activity may be within the literal language of the Hobbs Act, it must constitute 'racketeering" to be within the perimeters of the Act.' " 548 F.2d 1355, 1357, quoting United States v. Yokley, 542 F.2d 300, 304 (CA6 1976). We granted certiorari, 434 U.S. 816, 98 S.Ct. 53, 54 L.Ed.2d 71 (1977),2 and we now reverse.

Page 373

I

Nothing on the face of the statute suggests a congressional intent to limit its coverage to persons who have engaged in "racketeering." To the contrary, the statutory language sweeps within it all persons who have "in any way or degree . . . affect[ed] commerce . . . by robbery or extortion." 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a) (1976 ed.). These words do not lend themselves to restrictive interpretation; as we have recognized, they "manifest . . . a purpose to use all the constitutional power Congress has to punish interference with interstate commerce by extortion, robbery or physical violence," Stirone v. United States, 361 U.S. 212, 215, 80 S.Ct. 270, 272, 4 L.Ed. 252 (1960). The statute, moreover, carefully defines its key terms, such as "robbery," "extortion," and "commerce." 3 Hence the absence of any reference to "racketeering"—much less any definition of the word—is strong evidence that Congress did not intend to make "racketeering" an element of a Hobbs Act violation.

Page 374

Respondent nevertheless argues that we should read a racketeering requirement into the statute. To do so, however, might create serious constitutional problems, in view of the absence of any definition of racketeering in the statute. Neither respondent nor either of the two Courts of Appeals that have read this requirement into the statute has even attempted to provide a definition. Without such a definition, the statute might well violate "the first essential of due process of law": It would forbid "the doing of an act in terms so vague that [persons] of common intelligence [would] necessarily [have to] guess at its meaning and differ as to its application." Connally v. General Constr. Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391, 46 S.Ct. 126, 127, 70 L.Ed. 322 (1926); see, e. g., Hynes v. Mayor of Oradell, 425 U.S. 610, 620, 96 S.Ct. 1755, 1760, 48 L.Ed.2d 243 (1976). But we need not concern ourselves with these potential constitutional difficulties because a construction that avoids them is virtually compelled by the language and structure of the statute.

II
A.

Nothing in the legislative history supports the interpretation of the statute adopted by the Court of Appeals.4 The predecessor to the Hobbs Act, the Anti-Racketeering Act of 1934, ch. 569, 48 Stat. 979, was enacted, as its name implies, at a time when Congress was very concerned about racketeering activities. Despite these concer s, however, the Act, which was written in broad language similar to the language of the

Page 375

Hobbs Act, nowhere mentioned racketeering.5 This absence of the term is not surprising, since the principal congressional committee working on the Act, known as the Copeland Committee, found that the term and the associated word "racket" had "for some time been used loosely to designate every conceivable sort of practice or activity which was either questionable, unmoral, fraudulent, or even disliked, whether criminal or not." S.Rep.No.1189, 75th Cong., 1st Sess., 2 (1937).6

The Copeland Committee proceeded to develop its own "working definition" of racketeering, but it did not incor-

Page 376

porate this definition into the Act. Ibid. Critical to the definition was the existence of "an organized conspiracy to commit the crimes of extortion or coercion." Id., at 3. Yet the Act itself did not require a conspiracy to engage in unlawful conduct, and the Senate Judiciary Committee Report expressly stated that a violation of the Act would be established " 'whether the restraints [of commerce] are in form of conspiracies or not,' " S.Rep.No.532, 73d Cong., 2d Sess., 2 (1934), quoting Justice Department memorandum; see H.R.Rep.No.1833, 73d Cong., 2d Sess., 2 (1934). Moreover, the Act included a separate prohibition on conspiracies, § 2(d), 48 Stat. 980; see n. 5, supra, that would have been superfluous if proof of racketeering—as defined by the Copeland Committee to require conspiracy—were an integral element of the substantive offenses.7 There is nothing in the legislative history to dispell the conclusion compelled by these bservations. Congress simply did not intend to make racketeering a separate, unstated element of an Anti-Racketeering Act violation.

B

Given the absence of this intent in the Hobbs Act's predecessor, any requirement that racketeering be proved must be derived from the Hobbs Act itself or its legislative history. While the Hobbs Act was enacted to correct a perceived deficiency in the Anti-Racketeering Act, that deficiency had nothing to do with the element of racketeering. See United States v. Enmons, 410 U.S. 396, 401-404, 93 S.Ct. 1007, 1010-1011, 35 L.Ed.2d 379 (1973). Rather, it involved the latter Act's requirement that the proscribed "force, violence or coercion" lead to exaction of "valuable consideration" and its exclusion of wage payments from the definition of consideration. See n. 5, supra. In construing the wage-payments exclusion, this Court had held that the Act

Page 377

did not cover the actions of union truckdrivers who exacted money by threats or violence from out-of-town drivers in return for undesired and often unutilized services. United States v. Teamsters, 315 U.S. 521, 62 S.Ct. 642, 86 L.Ed. 1004 (1942). Shortly thereafter, several bills were introduced in Congress to alter this result. United States v. Enmons, supra, 410 U.S., at 402, and n. 8, 93 S.Ct. at 1010.

The bill that eventually became the Hobbs Act deleted the exception on which the Court had relied in Teamsters and substituted specific prohibitions against robbery and extortion for the Anti-Racketeering Act's language relating to the use of force or threats of force. The primary focus in the Hobbs Act debates was on whether the bill was designed as an attack on organized labor. Opponents of the bill argued that it would be used to prosecute strikers and interfere with labor unions. See, e. g., 91...

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165 practice notes
  • Lewis v. United States, No. 78-1595
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 27, 1980
    ...congressional intent to limit its coverage to persons [whose convictions are not subject to collateral attack]." United States v. Culbert, 435 U.S. 371, 373 (1978); see United States v. Naftalin, 441 U.S. 768, 772 (1979). The statutory language is sweeping, and its plain meaning is that the......
  • U.S. v. Standefer, No. 78-1909
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • October 11, 1979
    ...2190, 60 L.Ed.2d 743 (1979); United States v. Naftalin, 441 U.S. 768, 99 S.Ct. 2077, 60 L.Ed.2d 624 (1979); United States v. Culbert, 435 U.S. 371, 379, 98 S.Ct. 1112, 55 L.Ed.2d 349 The second reason why I think acquittal of the principal requires acquittal of the aider and abettor has bee......
  • U.S. v. Moore, No. 78-1594
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • January 2, 1980
    ...(1936). See also United States v. Alpers, 338 U.S. 680, 683, 70 S.Ct. 352, 354, 94 L.Ed. 457, 461 (1950). 124 United States v. Culbert, 435 U.S. 371, 379, 98 S.Ct. 1112, 1117, 55 L.Ed.2d 349, 356 (1978); Barrett v. United States, 423 U.S. 212, 218, 96 S.Ct. 498, 502, 46 L.Ed.2d 450, 455 (19......
  • U.S. v. Anderson, Nos. 79-1809
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • September 12, 1980
    ...process requires that criminal laws be written to give fair notice of the conduct they prohibit. 19 United States v. Page 1370 Culbert, 435 U.S. 371, 374, 98 S.Ct. 1112, 1114, 55 L.Ed.2d 349 (1978). Also, the principle of statutory construction, referred to as "the rule of lenity," requires......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
165 cases
  • Lewis v. United States, No. 78-1595
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 27, 1980
    ...congressional intent to limit its coverage to persons [whose convictions are not subject to collateral attack]." United States v. Culbert, 435 U.S. 371, 373 (1978); see United States v. Naftalin, 441 U.S. 768, 772 (1979). The statutory language is sweeping, and its plain meaning is that the......
  • U.S. v. Standefer, No. 78-1909
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • October 11, 1979
    ...2190, 60 L.Ed.2d 743 (1979); United States v. Naftalin, 441 U.S. 768, 99 S.Ct. 2077, 60 L.Ed.2d 624 (1979); United States v. Culbert, 435 U.S. 371, 379, 98 S.Ct. 1112, 55 L.Ed.2d 349 The second reason why I think acquittal of the principal requires acquittal of the aider and abettor has bee......
  • U.S. v. Moore, No. 78-1594
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • January 2, 1980
    ...(1936). See also United States v. Alpers, 338 U.S. 680, 683, 70 S.Ct. 352, 354, 94 L.Ed. 457, 461 (1950). 124 United States v. Culbert, 435 U.S. 371, 379, 98 S.Ct. 1112, 1117, 55 L.Ed.2d 349, 356 (1978); Barrett v. United States, 423 U.S. 212, 218, 96 S.Ct. 498, 502, 46 L.Ed.2d 450, 455 (19......
  • U.S. v. Anderson, Nos. 79-1809
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • September 12, 1980
    ...process requires that criminal laws be written to give fair notice of the conduct they prohibit. 19 United States v. Page 1370 Culbert, 435 U.S. 371, 374, 98 S.Ct. 1112, 1114, 55 L.Ed.2d 349 (1978). Also, the principle of statutory construction, referred to as "the rule of lenity," requires......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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