Evans v. United States, 504 U.S. 255, 10 (1992)

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264

EVANS v. UNITED STATES

Opinion of the Court

by a public official,13 the portion of the statute that refers to official misconduct continues to mirror the common-law definition. There is nothing in either the statutory text or the legislative history that could fairly be described as a "contrary direction," Morissette v. United States, 342 U. S., at 263, from Congress to narrow the scope of the offense.

The legislative history is sparse and unilluminating with respect to the offense of extortion. There is a reference to the fact that the terms "robbery and extortion" had been construed many times by the courts and to the fact that the definitions of those terms were "based on the New York law." 89 Cong. Rec. 3227 (1943) (statement of Rep. Hobbs); see 91 Cong. Rec. 11906 (1945) (statement of Rep. Robsion). In view of the fact that the New York statute applied to a public officer "who asks, or receives, or agrees to receive" unauthorized compensation, N. Y. Penal Code 557 (1881), the reference to New York law is consistent with an intent to apply the common-law definition. The language of the New York statute quoted above makes clear that extortion could be committed by one who merely received an unauthor-13 Several States had already defined the offense of extortion broadly enough to include the conduct of the private individual as well as the conduct of the public official. See, e. g., United States v. Nardello, 393 U. S. 286, 289 (1969) ("In many States . . . the crime of extortion has been statutorily expanded to include acts by private individuals under which property is obtained by means of force, fear, or threats"); Bush v. State, 19 Ariz. 195, 198, 168 P. 508, 509-510 (1917) (recognizing that the state Penal Code "has enlarged the scope of this offense so as not to confine the commission of it to those persons who act under color of official right"); People v. Peck, 43 Cal. App. 638, 643, 185 P. 881, 882-883 (1919) (In some States "the statutory definitions have extended the scope of the offense beyond that of the common law so as to include the unlawful taking of money or thing of value of another by any person, whether a public officer or a private individual, and this is so in California . . .").

At least one commentator has argued that, at common law, extortion under color of official right could also be committed by a private individual. See Lindgren 875.

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