Average Joe SCOTUS: United States v. Taylor

After some snooze fests, and landmark abortion and gun rulings, we finally have an interesting case that involves the holy trinity of crime—murder, violence, and robbery.

So all around scumbag, Justin Eugene Taylor, and some merry idiot he was with, decided that they needed some money. They were drug “wholesalers,” had some drugs to sell, and had a willing low level dealer with money looking to buy. Deciding this dipshit likely had a lot of money on him, they hatched a brilliant plan to rob this dude, take all his money, then keep the drugs and sell them to someone else. Taylor would play the role of Baby Driver, and his accomplice would do the dirty deed. What could possibly go wrong?

As their plan unfolded, their victim, less than thrilled about the idea of being robbed, got his ass shot and killed. Weirdly, despite this, the Taylor Gang failed to get the money. Not sure why, seems kinda wasteful to kill a motherfucker and not take the money you killed him for. But I’m guessing we’re not talking about a pair of genius criminal minds, here.

So Taylor was charged under the Hobbs Act, which basically aims to prevent interstate or foreign commerce robbery and/or extortion, and 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

Taylor, knowing the jig was up, decided he was ready to go all Monty Hall, and make a deal. He plead guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery, and using a firearm to commit a “crime of violence.” The deal was if he plead guilty to these two, the government would drop the remaining charges.

The “crime of violence” thing, is what’s at issue here, as it relates to the relationship between the Hobbs Act and 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), which in subsection 3A reads,

(3)For purposes of this subsection the term “crime of violence” means an offense that is a felony and—

(A) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another

One thing you learn about law, is that it isn’t like speaking English to your buddy, where words are fungible. Like, you might be hanging out, and see someone you find attractive and go “Fuck!” Or you might accidentally run into a brick wall and go “Fuck!” Two very different meanings for the same word like that, aren’t really helpful in law, because it creates too much uncertainty.

To combat this, in law, many words or phrases have specific definitions, and are often even defined in the law so there’s no question about what specifically is meant. So “crime of violence” has a specific definition, as listed above.

Taylor was like, “Sure I used a gun, and I attempted to commit robbery under the Hobbs Act. But you convicted me under the premise that an attempted robbery under the Hobbs Act, is a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). But here’s the problem, dude. Since I made that plea, those generous fucks at SCOTUS were nice enough to redefine “Crime of Violence” in my favor, so I’m rethinking my fucking plea.”

You see Johnson v. United States (2015) narrowed the definition of “Crime of violence” which said, “conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another” because they said it was constitutionally vague, which basically means, it doesn’t draw a clear line as to what is a crime versus not a crime.

Still confused on constitutionally vague? Here’s an easy way to think about it. Enacting a speed limit of “65 MPH” is NOT constitutionally vague, but enacting a speed limit of “around 65 mph or so” IS constitutionally vague. The latter is a problem, because if you’re driving along at 66 MPH, you’d have no reasonable way of knowing if you’re committing a crime, because that shit is vague! A lot of laws are struck down for this. It was part of the Roe v. Wade decision, even.

Anyway, back to Taylor. He complained, “Since my idiot partner shot this mother fucker, but then somehow didn’t grab the cash, it wasn’t a robbery, it was a failed attempt at a robbery, and thus doesn’t constitute a “crime of violence” under the new definition where SCOTUS cut out allusions to attempted crimes. And even better yet, they made that definition retroactive. So I declare I’m no longer guilty of this particular shit.”

What seems odd to me, and this is my Average Joe opinion, so I could be way the fuck off base, he took a plea deal for these charges, and in exchange, the other charges he was hit with originally (and guilty of) were dropped. The deal was presumably obtained based on the sentence the prosecutor thought he’d get. So if Taylor wins here in SCOTUS, I’m guessing they’ll likely just bring back those other charges against him, as this is effectively reneging on the plea deal, and presumably voids it.

So let me surmise. This dumb fuck and his friend killed someone for money, but in their infinite genius, didn’t actually take the fucking money. He made a deal to plea to two charges, but now his lawyer, being creative thinks he can reduce their sentence by arguing the shit he agreed to has been redefined by SCOTUS, and he’s no longer guilty of that crime. The argument being, that all he did was to attempt to threaten, but never actually did so.

Counsel for The United States, Rebecca Taibleson, obviously thinking this Taylor’s argument makes zero sense, tried to hit SCOTUS with this point:

I’m not sure that in the abstract a pure attempted threat is something that exists.

One clue to this is 18 U.S.C. 1512(a), a witness-tampering statute that criminalizes the witness tampering through the “use or threat of force, or attempts to do so.” So that sounds like it would capture attempted use and attempted threats, as well as use and threats. But then the penalty provision only provides penalties for uses of force, attempted uses of force, and threatened uses of force, which reflects, I think, the common-sense and textual intuition that there’s no such thing as an attempted threat in the abstract that does not itself attempt the use of force or threaten the use of force.

They also argue that attempted robberies are usually more violent than successful ones, because violence usually occurs when the victim resists. So this argument by Taylor would basically make the Hobbs Act and 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) significantly more useless.

But, as SCOTUS Blog pointed out, counsel for Taylor gave this hypothetical:

Imagine a person planning to rob a convenience store, Dreeben told the justices. He plans to hand the cashier a threatening note but not to use any force. He writes the note and drives to the store, but when he sees police in the area, he leaves the scene. He is guilty of attempting a robbery because he intended to steal property through the threat of force, and he took a “substantial step” to carry out the plan. But, Dreeben said, his actions don’t rise to a “crime of violence” because he never used force or attempted to use it – and he never reached the point of threatening to use it, either.

In a 7:2 decision, where only justices Thomas and Alito dissented, Justice Gorsuch delivered the majority opinion, siding with Taylor. In order for Taylor to be guilty, the state has to prove Taylor intended to see this shit through, and even took steps to make it happen. Since Taylor just sat in the car, apparently blissfully ignorant his partner had a gun and planned on violently robbing this dipshit, he didn’t attempt a violent crime.

Read about the case and hear oral arguments in the links below.

Oyez – United States v. Taylor

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