In affirming that criminal funds should indeed be covered, the Supreme Court clarified that loss of liberty is not the only type of sentence handed out by a District Court that must be tested by a jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
New York, New York (PRWEB) June 18, 2013
In his latest look at key cases that have defined United States Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.), New York City-based Federal appeals lawyer Stephen N. Preziosi is focusing on Southern Union v. United States,132 S. Ct. 2344, in which the Supreme Court held that criminal fines are part of the “Apprendi Principle” that protect a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights.
The petitioner Southern Union, a natural gas distributor, was convicted of committing multiple violations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976. At sentencing, the Probation Office established a maximum fine of $38.1 million, on the grounds that Southern Union had been in violation of the environmental statutes for a total of 762 days, and was subject to a fine of $50,000 per day.
Southern Union objected to the fine on the grounds that the judge’s instructions to the jury allowed it to find the defendant guilty on the basis of a single day’s violation. Furthermore, the jury verdict listed only an approximate start date for the violation. Ultimately, Southern Union argued that a fine exceeding one day’s violation – i.e. $50,000 – breached its constitutional rights per Apprendi v New Jersey (2000), which affirmed that judicial determination of any fact that increases a defendant’s maximum sentence violates the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to trial by Jury.
The District Court conceded that the Apprendi Principle applied to criminal fines. However, it held that the jury had, in fact, found a 762-day violation period. As such, a new fine of $6 million cash plus a $12 million “community service obligation” was rendered.
Southern Union appealed, and, unusually, the Court of Appeals agreed that the jury had not delivered its verdict based on a 762-day violation period. However, it didn’t overturn the sentence, as it held that the Apprendi Principle didn’t and shouldn’t apply to criminal fines.
Southern Union escalated its appeal to the Supreme Court, which in 2012 reversed the sentence and ruled that the Apprendi Principle does, in fact, apply to criminal fines, and that the petitioner’s Sixth Amendment rights had been violated.
“This case was not about whether the Apprendi Principle itself was valid, but whether criminal fines are categorically similar to imprisonment or even the death penalty in the context of protecting Sixth Amendment rights, and therefore should be governed by the Principle,” commented Federal appeals lawyer Stephen N. Preziosi. “In affirming that criminal funds should indeed be covered, the Supreme Court clarified that loss of liberty is not the only type of sentence handed out by a District Court that must be tested by a jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Added Mr. Preziosi: “On a more pragmatic note, the Supreme Court also validated the appropriateness, in some situations, for corporate or organizational defendants to be sentenced to fines instead of imprisonment. In other words, paradoxically, had the government’s argument been successful and Southern Union fined $18 million, that victory would have been severely tempered by the logical counter-argument that, as they aren’t governed by the Apprendi Principle, criminal fines aren’t appropriate sentences in the first place -- and that only a term of imprisonment is a `real’ sentence suitable in a criminal court of law.”
Mr. Preziosi’s full analysis of Southern Union v. United States,132 S. Ct. 2344 is available on his firm’s website at http://www.newyorkappellatelawyer.com/federal-sentencing-criminal-fines-are-covered-by-apprendi-and-the-sixth-amendment/
For more information or media inquiries, email newyorkappellatelawyer(at)gmail(dot)com or phone (212) 300-3845.
Federal appeals lawyer Stephen N. Preziosi handles criminal appeals in all U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals and in New York State Appellate Courts (including Appellate Divisions and the New York Court of Appeals). Whether a case is under the Penal Law in New York State Courts or under Federal Law in the U.S. District Courts, Mr. Preziosi has extensive experience with all types of appellate matters in both the New York State Courts and the Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal. Mr. Preziosi has pursued appellate cases in the Appellate Divisions, the Appellate
Terms and the highest court in the State of New York, the New York Court of Appeals. He has also taken on cases in the various U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, and successfully identified legal issues, designed and written briefs and conducted oral argument. The firm’s practice is concentrated in the area of appeals in criminal matters in both State and Federal Courts, and Mr. Preziosi recently launched a United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) awareness campaign to help the general public learn more about this critically important and influential aspect of criminal law.
Learn more at http://www.newyorkappellatelawyer.com.