SW Legal studies in Business

Conviction Must Be Based on Violating the Letter of the Law
Description The Supreme Court held that Pennsylvania violated the Due Process Clause by imprisoning a person despite the fact that, as the Pennsylvania supreme court later recognized, the letter of the law was not violated. The intent of the law may have been violated, but that is not sufficient for a criminal conviction.
Topic Criminal Law
Key Words Due Process; Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Fiore obtained a permit, as required by Pennsylvania statute, to operate a hazardous waste facility. Later, the state prosecuted Fiore for operating the facility without a permit, arguing that he had deviated so dramatically from the terms of the permit that it was the same as if he operated the facility without a permit. Fiore was imprisoned. The Pennsylvania supreme court upheld the conviction. Later that court reviewed an identical conviction of Scarpone, Fiore's partner at the facility, holding that to operate a facility improperly with a permit was not the same as operating a facility without a permit. Fiore then appealed to have his conviction set aside on the basis of the interpretation of the statute in the Scarpone case. The Pennsylvania courts refused the appeal, so Fiore brought a federal habeas corpus action. The federal district court granted the writ, but the federal court of appeals reversed, holding that "state courts are under no [federal] constitutional obligation to apply their decisions retroactively." Fiore appealed.
Decision Reversed. According to the Pennsylvania supreme court, the Scarpone case "merely clarified" the statute that required a permit and was not new law that presented an issue of retroactivity. "Fiore's conviction and continued incarceration on this charge violates due process. We have held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbids a State to convict a person of a crime without proving the elements of that crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, failure to possess a permit is a basic element of the crime of which Fiore was convicted. And the parties agree that [Pennsylvania] presented no evidence whatsoever to prove that basic element." Since Fiore had a permit, he could not have violated the statute in question.
Citation Fiore v. White, 121 S.Ct. 712 (Sup. Ct., 2001)

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