Sekhar v. United States

PETITIONER: Giridhar C. Sekhar
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Office of the State Comptroller of New York

DOCKET NO.: 12-357
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 570 US (2013)
GRANTED: Jan 11, 2013
ARGUED: Apr 23, 2013
DECIDED: Jun 26, 2013

ADVOCATES:
Paul D. Clement - for the petitioner
Sarah E. Harrington - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent

Facts of the case

Tejas Sekhar worked as a partner at the company of a venture capital, located in Brookline, Mass. In 2009, Sekhar sent messages by emails to Saketh Yanamala, was appointed at the time as legal attorney of Thomas DiNapoli, New York State Comptroller. Under the content of emails, which were seized from the Sekhar`s computer by the officers from FBI, he persisted that Bierman recommends the controller to take the obligation to invest a 35 million dollars in the retreat fund. He enforced him to do that through the threat to disclose the facts of the asserted extramarital relationship, occurred between his wife and DiNapoli to the publicity.

Firstly, Sekhar was accused of the coercion accordingly to the state legislation, after he was charged with attempt of extortion by federal document Hobbs act. The aforementioned document restricted the acquiring pf the property through threating. The defendant was condemned for this crime.

His attorneys affirmed that his advice as the recommendations of the state counsel could not be evaluated as some the property, therefore the accusation in the extortion could not be applied to it. This opposite point was refused by the judge of the district court and by the ruling of the court of the appeal.

The case study of Sekhar v. the United States was passed to revise of the USA Supreme Court. The main issue whether this advice of the lawyer worked in the state agency should be deemed as the intangible type of property that can be subjected to blackmailing accordingly to the Hobbs Act.

The case brief reflected that Court found that these attempt to enforce the person to give some recommendation in his interest didn`t refer to the extortion accordingly to the federal laws. The judges defined that General Counsel`s right to give some mercenary recommendations could not be transferred and thus had no substantial part of the extorted real estate and didn`t meet this term.

Question

Is the "recommendation" of an attorney, who is a salaried employee of a governmental agency, intangible property that can be the subject of an extortion attempt under the Hobbs Act?

Media for Sekhar v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 23, 2013 in Sekhar v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 26, 2013 in Sekhar v. United States

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Scalia has our opinion this morning in case 12-357, Sekhar versus United States.

Antonin Scalia:

I'm sorry about that but this is shorter.

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to United States Court Of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

New York's common retirement fund is an employee pension fund for the State of New York and its local governments.

In October 2009, the State Comptroller's Office was considering whether to invest in a fund managed by FA Technology Ventures.

The general counsel of the office recommended against the investment.

The general counsel then received anonymous e-mails demanding that he recommend in favor of the investment and threatening, if he did not, to disclose publicly information about an alleged extramarital affair he was having.

The e-mails were traced to petitioner, a managing partner of FA Technology Ventures.

Petitioner was then convicted of attempted extortion in violation of the Hobbs Act, which defines extortion to mean, this definition is crucial, “the obtaining of property from another induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear.”

The Second Circuit affirmed the conviction.

It held that the general counsel had a property right to make a recommendation free from threats and that petitioner sought to obtain that right by attempting to force to general counsel to make a different recommendation.

We granted certiorari and now reverse.

Absent other indication, Congress intends to incorporate the well-settled meaning of the common-law terms that it uses in it statutes.

Extortion is one of the oldest crimes in our legal tradition.

Yet no case preceding the Hobbs Act ever identified conduct such as that charged here as extortion.

The text of the Act confirms that obtaining property requires “not only the deprivation but also the acquisition of property.”

The property extorted must therefore be transferable -- that is, capable of passing from one person to another.

The alleged property here lacks that defining feature.

The genesis of the Hobbs Act reinforces this conclusion.

Congress borrowed nearly verbatim the definition of extortion from a 1909 New York statute but did not copy the coercion provision contained in that statute.

At the time of the borrowing, New York courts had consistently held that the sort of interference with rights that occurred here was extortion -- I'm sorry was coercion.

Wow, I almost blew that one.

In support of the conviction, the government urges -- argues that the petitioner sought to obtain the general counsel's property right, but no fluent speaker of English would say that “petitioner obtained and exercised the general counsel's right to make a recommendation”, any more than he would say that a person “obtained and exercised another's right to free speech.”

He would say that “petitioner forced the general council to make a particular recommendation,” just as he would say that a person “forced another to make a particular statement.”

Adapting the Government's theory would not only make nonsense of words; it would collapse the longstanding distinction between extortion and coercion and would ignore Congress' choice to penalize one but not the other.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is reversed.

Justice Alito has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in which Justices Kennedy and Sotomayor have joined.