RESPONDENT:Gregory White, Warden, et al.
LOCATION:Elizabeth Township, Allegheny County
DOCKET NO.: 98-942
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
CITATION: 531 US 225 (2001)
ARGUED: Oct 12, 1999
QUESTION CERTIFIED: Nov 30, 1999
DECIDED: Jan 09, 2001
James B. Lieber – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; for the petitioner
Robert A. Graci – Assistant Executive Deputy Attorney General, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; for the respondents.
Facts of the case
William Fiore and his co-defendant, David Scarpone, were convicted of operating a hazardous waste facility without a permit in violation of Pennsylvania State law after deliberately altering a monitoring pipe. Fiore appealed his conviction to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which affirmed the conviction. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court then denied further review of Fiore’s case, and his conviction became final. Scarpone appealed his conviction to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, which noted the existence of a “valid permit” and set aside the conviction. On appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed and found that Scarpone’s conduct did not constitute the operation of the facility without a permit because the law Fiore and Scarpone were convicted under does not apply to those who possess a permit but deviate radically from the permit’s terms. Fiore had asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review his case after it had agreed to review Scarpone’s case and twice more after it decided Scarpone. The court denied Fiore’s requests.
Fiore sought federal habeas relief, arguing that the U.S. Constitution required that his conviction be set aside because his conduct was not criminal under the statutory section charged. The District Court granted his petition. .The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed on the ground that it would require a retroactive application of a new rule of law.
Following oral argument, a unanimous court in an opinion by Justice Stephen J. Breyer certified the question whether the court’s interpretation of the statute set forth in Scarpone’s case stated the correct interpretation of Pennsylvania law on the date when Fiore’s conviction became final. The Court also reserved judgment and further proceedings in the case pending a response by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Justice Breyer wrote for the Court that “the answer to this question will help determine the proper state-law predicate for our determination of the federal constitutional questions raised in this case.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court replied that the decision “did not announce a new rule of law,” but “merely clarified the plain language of the statute.” The U.S. Supreme Court then took up the pending constitutional question.
Does the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment permit a state to convict a facility operater of operating without a permit, when the operater actually had a permit but deviated from its terms?
Media for Fiore v. White
- Opinion Announcement – January 09, 2001
- Opinion Announcement – November 30, 1999
- Oral Argument – October 12, 1999
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 09, 2001 in Fiore v. White
The second case is Fiore versus White, No. 98-942.
The background facts of this case are stated in the opinion we issued last term.
Petitioner challenged his Pennsylvania conviction for operating a hazardous of waste facility without a license.
He was denied relief in the Pennsylvania Courts and by the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on federal habeas.
We granted certiorari to determine whether his conviction was consistent with the Due Process Clause.
Because we were uncertain whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Scarpone represented a change in the law of Pennsylvania, we certify the question to that court and that court replied that, no, it did not announced a new rule of law.
Because Scarpone was not a new law but represented the law of Pennsylvania at the time Fiore’s conviction became final, the only question presented by this case is whether Pennsylvania can constitutionally convict Fiore of a crime of that its statute properly interpreted by its own court does not prohibit.
In Jackson versus Virginia and Winship, we 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 posses a permit is a basic element of a crime of which Fiore was convicted, and the parties agree that the Commonwealth presented no evidence whatsoever to provide that basic element.
The Commonwealth concedes that Fiore did posses a permit.
Fiore’s conviction therefore fails to satisfy the federal constitutional demands.
In a Per Curiam opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse the contrary judgment of the Third Circuit and remand this case for further proceedings.
Our decision is unanimous.