Supreme Court to Hear Waste Case
Date: November 30, 2011
Source: News Room
The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of a natural gas distribution company which claims that criminal fines issued by a lower court for violating federal waste law violated its Sixth Amendment rights because a judge, not a jury, determined the duration of the violation used to calculate the fine. The Sixth Amendment guarantees right to a trial by jury for criminal prosecutions. A federal district court in 2009 found the Southern Union Company (Houston, TX) guilty of violating waste disposal requirements under the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA) after it stored old mercury-filled gas regulators and loose liquid mercury in an unsecured building in Pawtucket, RI. The district court judge imposed an $ 18 million fine, consisting of $ 6 million in criminal fines and $ 12 million in community service fees, in part based on a finding that the company was in violation of RCRA for 762 days, liable for up to $ 50,000 per day in fines.
In the case “Southern Union Company v. United States,” the company and its backers, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce want the high court to overturn the fine. They argue that the district court finding violated its Sixth Amendment rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit later affirmed the ruling.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) urged the Supreme Court against hearing the case, siding with the 1st Circuit, which, based on the Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in “Oregon v. Ice,” which “held that the Sixth Amendment permits a trial court, rather than the jury, to make the findings necessary to impose a criminal fine.”
However, an Aug. 19 amicus brief filed by the Chamber and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers urges the high court to hear the case since the Ice ruling “has been misread so drastically that the [Supreme Court] should step in now to eliminate the potential for further confusion.”