US Supreme Court hears oral arguments in attempted robbery case
Photo credit: Stephanie Sundier
US Supreme Court hears oral arguments in attempted robbery case

The US Supreme Court Tuesday heard oral arguments in United States v. Taylor, a case considering whether an attempted robbery satisfying Hobbs Act elements is “a crime of violence” as defined in 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(A).

The US argued that an attempted Hobbs Act robbery is a crime of violence, noting that appellate courts and the act’s plain text support that understanding. The US observed that Section 924 was enacted to punish felons who use guns while committing violent crimes. Hobbs Act robbery elements include that “a defendant must specifically intend to take the property of another, against the victim’s will, through actual or threatened violence, and then take action substantial enough that it strongly corroborates his specific intention to complete every element of that crime.”

In this case, Respondent Justin Taylor was a drug dealer who planned with a coactor to steal money from their customer, Martin Sylvester. However, when a struggle ensued, Taylor’s coactor shot and killed Sylvester. Panicking, they fled and forgot to steal the victim’s money. Still, the US argued that had the pair remembered to take Sylvester’s money: “[T]hey would have completed their Hobbs Act robbery and thereby committed a crime of violence. That oversight does not determine the application of Section 924(c).”

Taylor’s attorney, Michael Dreeben, argued that there is a key distinction between completed robbery and attempted robbery, specifically that in the latter, the property is not taken. Additionally, Dreeben explained that defendants in these cases cannot claim they “only intended to threaten, never wanted to hurt a fly.” He stated: “That’s not a defense to the crime—It’s a confession.”

The US pointed to Taylor’s lack of supporting caselaw, noting that amid “thousands of prosecutions,” respondent offered “zero examples” supporting its case.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked whether Taylor needed to have supportive caselaw to win. The US conceded that such a task was not required, but that the “utter absence” of support highlighted courts’ resistance to interpret criminal law in a way that supported Taylor’s claims. The US added: “We don’t need to pretend that we live in, you know, the movie Minority Report in which the government can prosecute pre-crime and thought crime . . . That’s not how Congress writes laws, and that’s not how we interpret them.”