26 June 2013

Law in Plain English: Sekhar v. United States

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

Sekhar v. United States

Sekhar threatened to expose an alleged extra-marital affair if a lawyer for the state of New York did not give legal advice that could benefit Sekhar’s financial interests. As a result, the government charged Sekhar with violating the Hobbs Act, a federal law enacted in 1946 that makes it a crime to take someone else’s property by the use of a threat of force or violence. A jury convicted Sekhar, and the Second Circuit affirmed. The question before the Court was whether the "recommendation" of an attorney, who is a salaried employee of a governmental agency, in a single instance, is intangible property that can be the subject of an extortion attempt under the Hobbs Act. In a 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that attempting to compel a person to recommend that his employer approve an investment does not constitute the obtaining of property from another under the Hobbs Act. As a result, Sekhar's convicted was reversed. The practical impact of this decision is that the Hobbs Act will not be able to be used in similar circumstances to Sekhar's case.
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