Southern Union Co. v. U.S.

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Sentencing
  • Date Filed: March 19, 2012
  • Case #: 11-94
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court Below: 630 F.3d 17 (1st Cir. 2010)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether the Apprendi requirement that any facts which increase criminal penalties beyond the prescribed statutory maximum are to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and submitted to a jury applies to criminal fines.

Petitioner was convicted of storing hazardous waste without a permit, in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (42 U.S.C. § 6901 et seq) which has a maximum fine of $50,000 per day of violation. The jury was not instructed to find how many days Petitioner had been in violation of the statute. The District Court imposed a $6 million fine and $12 million “community service obligation” which the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed.

Petitioner argues that there is no distinction between fines and incarceration for Fifth and Sixth Amendment purposes, and that the sentence violates the United States Constitution since the jury did not find the facts upon which the sentence is based. In Apprendi, the court held that any fact other than a previous incarceration that could increase a penalty beyond the statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury and determined beyond a reasonable doubt. Historically, there has been no distinction between sentencing factors and elements of a crime. The Appellants argue that the historical reasoning in Apprendi requires that it be extended to criminal fines. Appellants further argue that the Court of Appeals’ historical analysis based on Oregon v. Ice was fundamentally flawed, and that the Court of Appeals’ assertion that criminal fines do not merit the same constitutional protections as incarceration is unsound and would have widespread practical consequences.

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