FIORE v. WHITE
William Fiore, an operater of a hazardous waste facility, was convicted of operating without a permit. Fiore had a valid permit, but had deviated from its terms by making alterations to the facility. Later the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the statute in question applied only to operators who actually lacked permits. Fiore appealed, seeking to have his convicted overturned. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rejected the appeal on the ground that it would require a retroactive application of a new rule of law. (See Fiore v. White (1999)) The U.S. Supreme Court asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court whether its decision had been a new rule, and the state court replied that the decision "did not announce a new rule of law," but "merely clarified the plain language of the statute."
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?
No. In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Court held that Fiore's conviction was unconstitutional. Since the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision was not a new rule, it governed Fiore's case even though the case was final before the decision was handed down. The Court found that since Fiore had a permit, his offense was not covered by the statute he was convicted under. The Court concluded that "Fiore's conviction fails to satisfy the Federal Constitution's demands."
Argument of Speaker
Mr. Speaker: 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.