Oral argument: Mar. 19, 2012
Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (Dec. 22, 2010)
CRIMINAL FINES, FIFTH AMENDMENT, SIXTH AMENDMENT, ENVIRONMENT, CRIMINAL LAW
In 2004, local youths broke into a Southern Union storage center that was improperly storing mercury; the incident resulted in a spill and cleanup effort. Southern Union was charged with storing hazardous waste without a permit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. After a jury found Southern Union guilty, the district court judge determined that the violation had continued for 762 days and imposed a fine of $38 million. On appeal, Southern Union argued that the Supreme Court’s decision in Apprendi required that the jury determine the period of the violation, not the judge. Southern Union contends that if the determination of the period of violation is left to the judge, the court could impose a fine in excess of the actual violation, violating Southern Union’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. In contrast, the United States asserts that Apprendi is not applicable because it dealt with deprivations of life and liberty interests, not the criminal fines that are at issue here. The decision in this case has implications for consistent treatment of defendants and the efficiency of courts.