Attorney Eric D. Puryear

Federal Robbery or Extortion Charges

Puryear Law » Legal Blog » Federal Criminal Law » Federal Robbery or Extortion Charges

The federal crime of robbery, formally called Interference with commerce by threats or violence, is defined by 18 U.S.C. § 1951 as follows.


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(a) 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 violence to any person or property in furtherance of a plan or purpose to do anything in violation of this section shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.
(b) As used in this section—
(1) The term “robbery” means the unlawful taking or obtaining of personal property from the person or in the presence of another, against his will, by means of actual or threatened force, or violence, or fear of injury, immediate or future, to his person or property, or property in his custody or possession, or the person or property of a relative or member of his family or of anyone in his company at the time of the taking or obtaining.
(2) The term “extortion” means the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.
(3) The term “commerce” means commerce within the District of Columbia, or any Territory or Possession of the United States; all commerce between any point in a State, Territory, Possession, or the District of Columbia and any point outside thereof; all commerce between points within the same State through any place outside such State; and all other commerce over which the United States has jurisdiction.

The federal law prohibiting robbery references commerce due to the fact that the US Constitution allows the federal government to criminalize conduct only when there is a specific constitutional grant of authority for it to do so.  To enact 18 U.S.C. § 1951 and criminalize robbery that interferes with commerce, the federal government used its Commerce Clause authority, which is what gives the federal government the authority to regulate commerce.

To be able to obtain a conviction, the federal prosecutors would have to prove each of the following elements:


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First: That Defendant took from (the victim alleged in the indictment) the property described in the indictment;

Second: That Defendant did so knowingly and willfully by (robbery) (extortion); and

Third: That as a result of Defendant’s actions, interstate commerce (an item moving in interstate commerce) was obstructed, delayed, or affected.


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A person charged with robbery or extortion by the federal government can receive a prison sentence of up to 20 years, at 85% (meaning that at least 85% of the sentence would have to be served prior to release from prison). That makes a federal charge of interference with commerce by threats or violence a very serious one. Those facing such a charge are wise to exercise their right to remain silent and seek an attorney at once, as it is of great importance that the case be properly handled.


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