Evans v. United States, 504 U.S. 255, 11 (1992)

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Cite as: 504 U. S. 255 (1992)

Opinion of the Court

ized payment.14 This was the statute that was in force in New York when the Hobbs Act was enacted.

The two courts that have disagreed with the decision to apply the common-law definition have interpreted the word "induced" as requiring a wrongful use of official power that "begins with the public official, not with the gratuitous actions of another." United States v. O'Grady, 742 F. 2d, at 691; see United States v. Aguon, 851 F. 2d, at 1166 (" 'inducement' can be in the overt form of a 'demand,' or in a more subtle form such as 'custom' or 'expectation' "). If we had no common-law history to guide our interpretation of the statutory text, that reading would be plausible. For two reasons, however, we are convinced that it is incorrect.

First, we think the word "induced" is a part of the definition of the offense by the private individual, but not the offense by the public official. In the case of the private individual, the victim's consent must be "induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence or fear." In the case of the public official, however, there is no such requirement. The statute merely requires of the public official that he obtain "property from another, with his consent, . . . under color of official right." The use of the word "or" before "under color of official right" supports this reading.15

14 Many of the treatise writers explained that, at common law, extortion was defined as the corrupt taking or receipt of an unlawful fee by a public officer under color of office. They did not allude to any requirements of "inducement" or "demand" by a public officer. See, e. g., W. LaFave & A. Scott, Handbook on Criminal Law 95, p. 704 (1972); R. Perkins & R. Boyce, Criminal Law 448 (1982); 4 C. Torcia, Wharton's Criminal Law 695, p. 481, 698, p. 484 (14th ed. 1981).

15 This meaning would, of course, have been completely clear if Congress had inserted the word "either" before its description of the private offense because the word "or" already precedes the description of the public offense. The definition would then read: "The term 'extortion' means the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, either induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right."


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