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United States v. Elias

ELR Citation: 32 ELR 20218
Nos. No. 00-30145, 269 F.3d 1003/53 ERC 1342/(9th Cir., 10/23/2001) Aff'd

The court upholds the conviction of a fertilizer company owner who allowed hazardous waste to be disposed of without a permit while knowing that his actions placed others in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury, but the court vacates a district court order requiring the owner to pay a $6.3 million restitution award. On appeal, the owner argued that Idaho's authorized hazardous waste program displaced the federal program, leaving no federal crimes and ousting the federal court of jurisdiction. The court first holds, however, that the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act's criminal enforcement powers are meant to apply within states having authorized programs. In addition, there was sufficient evidence for the jury to convict him of disposing hazardous waste. Moreover, the hazardous waste regulations are not so vague as to deprive the owner of notice that his acts were prohibited, rendering the convictions unconstitutional. A reasonable person in the owner's position would have known of the hazardous nature of the substances without a numerically quantified, test-based standard. The court next holds that although a jury instruction was unclear as to the mens rea applicable to his offenses, it was not clearly erroneous. Nor did an evidentiary hearing inquiring into the owner's alleged tampering of the jury warrant a new trial. The court further holds, however, that the district court erred in ordering the owner to pay $6.3 million in restitution to an injured employee. Restitution may be imposed only for violations under Title 18 of the U.S. Code, whereas here, the owner's crimes were violations of Title 42.

[A prior decision in this litigation is published at 30 ELR 20558.]

[Counsel not available at this printing.]

Nelson, J. Before Wallace and Hall, JJ.