facebook
twitter
rss
account
search
search
 

Court: Jury determines facts for fine

June 21, 2012 at 12:51 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, June 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 Monday that juries not judges should determine the facts under which a criminal fine is calculated.

Houston-based Southern Union Co., a natural gas distributor, was convicted by a federal jury on one count of violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 for having knowingly stored liquid mercury without a permit at a subsidiary's Rhode Island facility.

Violations of RCRA are punishable by a fine of not more than $50,000 for each day of violation.

At sentencing, the probation office calculated a maximum fine of $38.1 million on the assumption that Southern Union violated RCRA for each of the 762 days from Sept. 19, 2002, through Oct. 19, 2004.

But Southern Union argued that imposing any fine greater than the 1-day penalty of $50,000 would be unconstitutional under the Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Apprendi vs. New Jersey, which says the Sixth Amendment's trial-by-jury guarantee requires that any fact -- other than a prior conviction -- that increases the maximum punishment authorized for a particular crime has to be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

Based on the jury verdict and the judge's instructions, Southern Union argued, the only violation the jury necessarily found was for one day. The trial judge ruled that Apprendi applies to criminal fines, but concluded from the "content and context of the verdict all together" that the jury found a 762-day violation. The judge set a fine of $6 million and a "community service obligation" of $12 million. A federal appeals court ruled that Apprendi does not apply to criminal fines, disagreeing with the judge that the jury necessarily found a violation of 762 days, but confirmed the sentence.

The majority opinion written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor throws out the lower court ruling and sends the case back down for a new ruling in line with the opinion.

"The Sixth Amendment reserves to juries the determination of any fact, other than the fact of a prior conviction, that increases a criminal defendant's maximum potential sentence," Sotomayor wrote, citing Apprendi. " ... We have applied this principle in numerous cases where the sentence was imprisonment or death. The question here is whether the same rule applies to sentences of criminal fines. We hold that it does."

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
Recommended UPI Stories
Featured UPI Collection
trending
2014: The Year in Music [PHOTOS]

2014: The Year in Music [PHOTOS]

Most Popular
1
Federal judge strikes down polygamy ban in Utah
2
Ukraine: Troop movements will no longer be publicized after Russian attacks
3
Body found, confirmed to be missing N.J. man Aaron Sofer [UPDATED]
4
Search expands for pilot of crashed U.S. military jet in rural Virginia
5
Islamic State claims mass execution of 250 Syrian soldiers
Trending News
Video
x
Feedback