U.S. V. An Individual

*/ In the past, random stacking was the best available disposal method. Here drums are being dumped into a hole in a Pit  in 1969. Courtesy of U.S. Senate.
The defendant in this case was convicted of disposing of hazardous waste without a permit in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and of violating the conditions of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit issued pursuant to the Clean Water Act (CWA).   The RCRA count involved the burial of drums of leftover road paint; the CWA count involved the burial of restaurant sludge at a municipal water treatment plant.   The defendant appealed his convictions, contending that the government should have been required to prove that he knew a permit was required and that no permit had been obtained.   In a unanimous 1989 decision, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the defendant's convictions, finding, in substance, that the government was not required to prove that the defendant had knowledge of permit status. 880 F.2d 1033 (9th Cir. 1989).  The court further found that while the government must prove the defendant knew the material disposed of was “hazardous,” it was sufficient to instruct the jury that it had to find that the defendant "knew the chemical wastes had the potential to be harmful to others or to the environment, or in other words, it was not an innocuous substance like water."  

The case is significant for the legal precedent it set regarding knowledge under the environmental criminal statutes.  This case has often been cited for the proposition that environmental criminal offenses are “general intent” crimes, requiring proof of knowledge of facts constituting the offense, rather than “specific intent” crimes, requiring proof of knowledge that the conduct was unlawful.

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Updated April 13, 2015

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