What is the Travel Act?
In general terms, the Travel Act is one of several federal laws that criminalize business activities that are illegal at the state level. Specifically, the Travel Act makes it a federal offense to travel from state to state (or internationally) with the intent to promote or facilitate an unlawful activity.
Does the Travel Act get specific as to what constitutes illegal activity?
The Travel Act does specify three kinds of illegal activity: (1) any enterprise involving gambling, liquor on which the excise tax has not been paid, narcotics, controlled substances, or prostitution offenses; (2) bribery, extortion, or arson; and (3) any illegal monetary transaction.
But the Travel Act is also triggered by a violation of state law when interstate or international commerce is involved. This means that there doesn't have to be an analogous federal statute at work. For example, there is no federal commercial bribery statute. But if you travel from state A to bribe someone in state B, and state B has a commercial bribery statute, then you have violated state B's commercial bribery statute and triggered the Travel Act.
Do I have to travel to violate the Travel Act?
Despite the name, you don't have to travel to violate the Travel Act. Use of what is termed "interstate facilities" is sufficient to bring the Travel Act into operation. "Interstate facilities" would include such things as the telephone, the Internet, and the mail anytime a communication goes across state lines or leaves the country.
What's the Hobbs Act?
The Hobbs Act is a federal law that is closely related to the Travel Act. The Hobbs Act was originally enacted to combat racketeering in disputes between labor and management. The Hobbs Act also makes reference to conspiracy to commit robbery or extortion without referencing the federal conspiracy statute. Nowadays, the Hobbs Act is often used in the context of commercial disputes and public corruption.
What are the differences between the Hobbs Act and the Travel Act?
Though they're closely related, there are some crucial differences between the two acts. For example, all that's needed to trigger the Hobbs Act is some potential or probable obstruction or effect on interstate commerce. The Travel Act, on the other hand, requires the actual use of an interstate facility (e.g. the Internet).
But what if I didn't intend to use anything in an interstate manner--can I still violate the Travel Act?
Yes. For the purposes of the Travel Act, you don't have to intend to use an interstate facility like the mail or the Internet. All you have to do is intend to undertake the illegal activity. Of course, the prosecutor can't open your head and point directly at an intent to commit a crime, but he or she can use circumstantial evidence to prove that intent.
Could the Travel Act affect my online business?
Even though the nature of your online business may be perfectly legitimate where you're at, you have to remember that the Internet is everywhere, and that what you do online may be a violation of another state's laws. Let's say, for example, you have a website that gives advice on how to be a better poker player, and you have banner ads from various online casinos. Nevada has a statute that requires the operator of a for-profit gambling activity to get a state license, and that same statute makes it a felony to work in conjunction with someone who has failed to obtain such a license. Are you violating Nevada law? And if so, are you setting yourself up for a charge under the Travel Act?
Answering those questions can be complicated, and you need expert advice based on a thorough understanding of your situation. The answers depend in part on whether your ads target Nevada residents and whether your website has an interactive feature that would allow them to purchase prohibited goods or services.
Are there any defenses to a charge under the Travel Act?
Entrapment can sometimes be a successful defense. Entrapment would arise when federal law enforcement officials supply the necessary interstate element and then make sure you use that element. There is also another defense available when the Travel Act is triggered because of a violation of state law: A defense that works against the state offense would also operate against the Travel Act. The logic here is that because the charge under the Travel Act is based on a state offense, any defense to the state charge would necessarily apply to the former.
What are the penalties for a Travel Act Violation?
At a minimum, a violation of the Travel Act could result in a fine, five years in prison, or both. Under some circumstances, a violation could result in a fine, 20 years in prison, or both. If a loss of life is involved, life imprisonment is also a possibility.
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