Department of Revenue of Mont. v. Kurth Ranch, 511 U.S. 767 (1994)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 93-144. Argued January 19, 1994—Decided June 6, 1994

Montana law enforcement officers raided the farm of respondents—members of the extended Kurth family—arrested them, and confiscated and later destroyed their marijuana plants. After the Kurths pleaded guilty to drug charges, petitioner revenue department attempted, in a separate proceeding, to collect a state tax imposed on the possession and storage of dangerous drugs. That tax is collected only after any state or federal fines or forfeitures have been satisfied, and taxpayers must file a return after they are arrested. In bankruptcy proceedings filed by the Kurths, they objected to petitioner's proof of claim for the tax and challenged the tax's constitutionality. The Bankruptcy Court held, among other things, that the assessment on harvested marijuana, a portion of which resulted in a tax eight times the product's market value, was a form of double jeopardy invalid under the Federal Constitution, and the District Court affirmed. In affirming, the Court of Appeals determined that the central inquiry under United States v. Halper, 490 U. S. 435, is whether the sanction imposed is rationally related to the damages the government suffered, that the Kurths were entitled to an accounting to determine if the sanction constituted an impermissible second punishment, and that the tax was unconstitutional as applied to them because the State refused to offer any such evidence.

Held: The tax violates the constitutional prohibition against successive punishments for the same offense. Pp. 776-784. (a) Although deciding in Halper that a legislature's description of a statute as civil does not foreclose the possibility that it has a punitive character, and that a defendant convicted and punished for an offense may not have a nonremedial civil penalty imposed against him for the same offense in a separate proceeding, the Court did not consider whether a tax may similarly be characterized as punitive. However, the Court's recognition that the extension of a so-called tax's penalizing feature can cause it to lose its character as such and become a mere penalty, A. Magnano Co. v. Hamilton, 292 U. S. 40, 46, together with Halper's unequivocal statement that labels do not control in a double jeopardy inquiry, indicates that a tax is not immune from double jeopardy scrutiny simply because it is a tax. Pp. 776-780.


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