Department of Revenue of Montana v. Kurth Ranch

PETITIONER:Department of Revenue of Montana
RESPONDENT:Kurth Ranch et al.
LOCATION:Jackson Circuit Court

DOCKET NO.: 93-144
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)

CITATION: 511 US 767 (1994)
ARGUED: Jan 19, 1994
DECIDED: Jun 06, 1994

Facts of the case


Media for Department of Revenue of Montana v. Kurth Ranch

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 19, 1994 in Department of Revenue of Montana v. Kurth Ranch

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 06, 1994 in Department of Revenue of Montana v. Kurth Ranch

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinions of the Court in two more cases will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

Both of these cases come to us from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The first, Montana against Kurth presents the question whether the imposition of a tax on the possession of illegal drugs assessed after the state has imposed a criminal penalty for precisely the same conduct is a form of double jeopardy.

Respondents, the Kurth family, owned a cattle ranch in Montana.

When they are unable to meet their mortgage payments, they went into the business of growing and selling marijuana.

In due course, state officials became aware of their illegal business, arrested them, seized and destroyed their illegal crafts, and they were convicted and sentenced for their criminal conduct.

In a separate proceeding, Montana also sought to enforce its newly enacted Dangerous Drug Tax Act.

That statute imposes a tax on the possession and storage of dangerous drugs by persons who have already been arrested for that conduct.

The statute expressly provides that the tax has to be collected only after all state and federal fines and forfeitures have been satisfied.

The obligation to pay the tax does not arise unless and until the taxpayer has been arrested for the criminal offense of possessing the drugs.

Moreover, the tax is imposed on property that the tax payer no longer possesses and the rate of the tax in part is based on the market value of properties that cannot be illegally marketed.

In proceedings to collect the tax, the Federal Bankruptcy Court, the District Court, and the Court of Appeals all concluded that it was an unconstitutional attempt to impose a second punishment for the offense for which the Kurth had already been convicted and sentenced.

Because the Montana Supreme Court had reached a different conclusion, we granted certiorari to resolve the conflict.

For reasons stated in an opinion filed with the Clerk, we hold that this drug tax is not the kind of remedial sanction that may follow the first punishment for a criminal offense.

We, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Dissenting opinions have been filed by the Chief Justice, by Justice O’Connor, and by Justice Scalia.

Justice Thomas has joined the opinion written by Justice Scalia.