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Media Alerts - U.S. v. Salahuddin - Third Circuit
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September 8, 2014
  U.S. v. Salahuddin - Third Circuit
Headline: No Overt Act Required for Conviction Under the Hobbs Act

Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law

Issues Presented: Does conviction for conspiracy under § 1951 of the Hobbs Act require an overt act?

Brief Summary: Defendants Ronald Salahuddin and Sonnie Cooper were both convicted of conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, in violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). Defendants raised several issues on appeal, the most important of which dealt with whether a conspiracy conviction under the Hobbs Act requires an overt act. The Court rejected this argument, finding that there is no over act requirement for a conviction of conspiracy under the Hobbs Act. After rejecting their remaining arguments, the Third Circuit affirmed the convictions of both Defendants.

Extended Summary: Defendant Ronald Salahuddin was the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety in Newark, New Jersey and Defendant Sonnie Cooper owned and operated several New Jersey businesses, including a demolition business called Cooper Brothers Trucking. During his time in public office, Salahuddin allegedly conspired to use his official position to obtain charitable and political contributions and to direct Newark demolition contracts to Cooper. Evidence presented at trial in the District Court of New Jersey suggested that Salahuddin was a "silent partner" in Cooper Brothers Trucking.

A grand jury in Trenton, New Jersey returned a five-count indictment against Defendants. Following a trial, the jury found them guilty only on Count 1 - conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, in violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). On appeal, the Court first addressed Defendant Salahuddin's claim that an overt act is required for a Hobbs Act conspiracy conviction, which was an issue of first impression in the Third Circuit. The Court looked to Supreme Court precedent which explained that "if a statutory text is modeled on § 371, the general conspiracy statute, 'it gets an overt-act requirement,' but if it is modeled on the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1, which omits any express overt-act requirement, 'it dispenses with such a requirement.'" This is commonly known as the Whitfield test. The Court reasoned that because the statute omits any express over-act requirement here, one was not required in order to sustain a conspiracy conviction.

The Court rejected Defendant's attempt to distinguish the Hobbs Act from the Whitfield test because, according to Defendant, the statute was not "plain and unambiguous." The Court reasoned that the Supreme Court "did not establish that a statute must be plain and unambiguous as a precondition to the application of [the Whitfield test]." The Court further explained that § 1951 of the Hobbs Act is, in fact, plain and unambiguous. The Court ultimately concluded that the language of § 1951 was comparable to the language of the Sherman Act. As a result, under the Whitfield test, the Court joined the First, Fourth, Second, and Eleventh Circuits in finding that there is no overt act requirement for a conspiracy conviction under the Hobbs Act. The Court then rejected Defendants' remaining arguments and affirmed the district court's judgments of conviction for both Defendants.
To read the full opinion, please visit: http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/131464p.pdf.

Panel (if known): Fisher, Cowen, and Tashima, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: June 10, 2014

Date of Issued Opinion: September 3, 2014

Docket Number: No. 13-1751

Decided: Affirmed.

Case Alert Author: Aaron Spencer

Counsel: Counsel for the Appellant: Thomas R. Ashely, Esq., (Argued); Counsel for the Appellees: Alan L. Zegas, Esq. (Argued), Mark E. Coyne, Esq., and David W. Feder, Esq.

Author of Opinion: Judge Fisher

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Mary E. Levy

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 09/08/2014 12:59 PM     3rd Circuit  

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