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Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer > Blog > Federal Crime > How Impeding Interstate Commerce Can Lead to Federal Criminal Charges

How Impeding Interstate Commerce Can Lead to Federal Criminal Charges


Many federal crimes are based on Congress’ constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. For example, a person commits federal mail fraud if they use any means of interstate communication to defraud someone out of money. Similarly, if you engage in a violent act that somehow impedes interstate commerce–such as using an explosive to destroy a highway–you can be charged and tried in federal court.

Alabama Woman Convicted of Obstructing Law Enforcement During George Floyd Protest

Taking things a step further, it is also a federal crime to “obstruct, impede, or interfere with any fireman or law enforcement officer” who is performing their lawful duties during a civil disorder that “in any way or degree” affects interstate commerce. In simple terms, if there is a riot, anyone who tries to stop the police from keeping public streets open during the riot may be charged with a federal crime punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

In the wake of the 2020 nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer, some people have in fact been convicted under this law. The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has federal appellate jurisdiction over Florida, recently addressed one of these cases, United States v. Pugh. The Court rejected a number of constitutional challenges to the law following the conviction of an Alabama woman, the defendant in this case.

According to court records, the defendant was among a group of protestors in Mobile, Alabama. On the day in question, the protestors marched through downtown Mobile. Local police mobilized to keep the protests off of Interstate 10.

In the 11th Circuit’s words, “[t]he protest eventually devolved into a riot.” When police deployed tear gas to keep the protestors away from I-10, the defendant “smashed a police car window with a baseball bat before running away.”

A federal jury subsequently convicted the defendant of impeding law enforcement during a civil disorder. On appeal, she argued the law exceeded Congress’ authority to regulate interstate commerce, violated her First Amendment rights, and violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The 11th Circuit rejected all three arguments and upheld the defendant’s conviction.

With respect to congressional power, the 11th Circuit noted that Congress may criminalize conduct that is “incidental” to interstate commerce so long as there is a “sufficient connection” to interstate commerce. Here, the defendant’s actions had such a connection, as her “criminal act required commercial vehicles to be rerouted” due to the inability of police to reopen I-10.

As for the First Amendment, the Court said the law did not target anyone’s speech. Rather, it prohibited “any” conduct meant to obstruct a law enforcement officer during a riot that affected interstate commerce. The law did not favor certain protestors’ messages over others. Nor was the law too “vague” to violate the defendant’s Fifth Amendment right to due process.

Contact the Joshi Law Firm Today

Federal criminal prosecution can lead to serious jail time and other limits on your civil rights. So it is important to work with a qualified Orlando federal crimes defense attorney who can advise you of your rights and represent your interests in court. Contact the Joshi Law Firm, PA, today to schedule a free consultation.




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