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United States v. Rodriguez

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 18, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RAUL RODRIGUEZ

          MEMORANDUM

          STENGEL, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         According to the indictment in this criminal case, the defendant, Raul Rodriguez, robbed a check cashing business at gunpoint with an accomplice, gagged and tied one of the employees in a locked room, and threatened to kill her.

         Count Two of the indictment charges the defendant with a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A), which makes it a crime to use, carry, or possess a firearm during the commission of a "crime of violence." A "crime of violence" is defined as "an offense that is a felony" and that "has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another." 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(A).

         The alleged "crime of violence" in this case is Hobbs Act robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951.[1] Defendant argues that Hobbs Act robbery does not constitute a "crime of violence" because the crime merely puts the victim in fear of "future" injury. Thus, under the defendant's logic, Count Two must be dismissed. Also according to defendant, I must apply the categorical approach to this issue, which confines my analysis to the elements of Hobbs Act robbery.

         For the following reasons, I will deny defendant's motion to dismiss.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The parties dispute whether the "categorical approach" or the "modified categorical approach" applies to my analysis. As explained below, I find that, under either approach, Hobbs Act robbery is a "crime of violence" within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(A).

         A. "Categorical" Versus "Modified Categorical" Approach

         The "categorical" approach is an analysis used by district courts, at the sentencing stage, to determine whether a given crime qualifies as a "crime of violence" under 18 U.S.C. § 924. Under the categorical approach, courts look only to the elements of the crime at issue. United States v. Blair, 734 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir. 2013). Under this approach, courts may not consider any underlying documents, such as the pre-sentence report or the indictment. Id.

         The "modified categorical approach" allows courts to go beyond the elements of the offense. Under this approach, the court may consider a limited class of documents, such as the indictment and jury instructions. Id. Whether to employ the "modified categorical approach" or the "categorical" approach depends upon whether a given crime is "divisible." Id. at 223-24. A divisible crime is one that includes alternative elements; i.e., the crime may be committed in multiple different ways. Id. An indivisible crime does not include alternative elements. Id. If a court determines that a crime is indivisible (i.e. does not have alternative elements) then the court may not use the modified categorical approach. Id.

         B. Analysis

         Nearly all the cases addressing whether Hobbs Act robbery qualifies as a crime of violence involve sentencing determinations rather than pre-trial motions to dismiss. In one recent case, however, a district court within this Circuit examined an identical argument at the motion to dismiss stage. United States v. Monroe, 158 F.Supp.3d 385, 388 (W.D. Pa. 2016). I agree with the reasoning of that court.

         As explained in Monroe, the majority of district courts to address whether Hobbs Act robbery constitutes a "crime of violence" under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) have concluded that it does. Monroe, 158 F.Supp.3d at 388-89 (collecting cases). In the process, these courts have found that the "categorical approach"-while appropriate in the sentencing context-is not applicable at the pre-trial stage. Id. at 391 (agreeing that "it would make no sense to apply the categorical approach to a pre-trial motion" because at the pre-trial stage, unlike the sentencing phase, "a court can-and indeed ...


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