Department of Revenue of Mont. v. Kurth Ranch, 511 U.S. 767, 13 (1994)

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Cite as: 511 U. S. 767 (1994)

Opinion of the Court

tics that subject it to the constraints of the Double Jeopardy Clause.

Although we have never held that a tax violated the Double Jeopardy Clause, we have assumed that one might.16 In

the context of other constitutional requirements, we have repeatedly examined taxes for constitutional validity. We have cautioned against invalidating a tax simply because its enforcement might be oppressive or because the legislature's motive was somehow suspect. A. Magnano Co. v. Hamilton, 292 U. S. 40, 44 (1934). Yet we have also recognized that "there comes a time in the extension of the penalizing features of the so-called tax when it loses its character as such and becomes a mere penalty with the characteristics of regulation and punishment." Id., at 46 (citing Child Labor Tax Case, 259 U. S. 20, 38 (1922)). That comment, 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.

Halper recognized that "[t]his constitutional protection is intrinsically personal," and that only "the character of the actual sanctions" can substantiate a possible double jeopardy violation. 490 U. S., at 447. Whereas fines, penalties, and forfeitures are readily characterized as sanctions, taxes are typically different because they are usually motivated by

16 In Helvering v. Mitchell, 303 U. S. 391 (1938), for example, this Court considered a Revenue Act provision requiring the taxpayer to pay an additional 50 percent of the total amount of any deficiency due to fraud with an intent to evade the tax. The Court assumed such a penalty could trigger double jeopardy protection if it were intended for punishment, but it nevertheless held that the statute was constitutional because the 50 percent addition to the tax was remedial, not punitive. Id., at 398-405. Although the penalty at issue in Mitchell is arguably better characterized as a sanction for fraud than a tax, the Court described it interchangeably as a "sanction," id., at 405, 406, an "addition to the tax," id., at 405, an "assessment," id., at 396, and a "tax," id., at 398, making nothing of the potential import of the distinction.


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