Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Supreme Court Accepts Criminal Environmental Case - Does Apprendi Apply to Fines

The U.S. Supreme Court accepted cert in the case of Southern Union Co. v. United States. The question presented is "whether the Fifth and Sixth Amendment principles that this Court established in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and its progeny, apply to the imposition of criminal fines."

Southern Union was convicted under RCRA following a jury trial. The First Circuit Court of Appeals examined whether under Apprendi it was proper that a judge, and not a jury, "determined the facts as to the number of days of violation under a schedule of fines," and held that "Apprendi does not apply to the imposition of statutorily prescribed fines." 

With huge fines being levied in white collar cases, this issue is an important one not only in the environmental context, but also in other areas. In the Southern Unioncase, the "district court imposed a $6 million fine and a $12 million 'community service obligation.'" The government argued that Apprendi does not apply to criminal fines  citing to the Supreme Court's decision in Oregon v. Ice. But with white collar fines becoming exorbitant numbers, it raises an interesting issue that will likely be an important case to follow in the Court.



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