BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 15 (1996)

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Cite as: 517 U. S. 559 (1996)

Opinion of the Court

have the power, however, to punish BMW for conduct that was lawful where it occurred and that had no impact on Alabama or its residents.19 Nor may Alabama impose sanctions on BMW in order to deter conduct that is lawful in other jurisdictions.

In this case, we accept the Alabama Supreme Court's interpretation of the jury verdict as reflecting a computation of the amount of punitive damages "based in large part on conduct that happened in other jurisdictions." 646 So. 2d, at 627. As the Alabama Supreme Court noted, neither the jury nor the trial court was presented with evidence that any of BMW's out-of-state conduct was unlawful. "The only testimony touching the issue showed that approximately 60% of the vehicles that were refinished were sold in states where failure to disclose the repair was not an unfair trade practice." Id., at 627, n. 6.20 The Alabama Supreme Court therefore properly eschewed reliance on BMW's out-of-state conduct, id., at 628, and based its remitted award solely on

19 See Bordenkircher v. Hayes, 434 U. S. 357, 363 (1978) ("To punish a person because he has done what the law plainly allows him to do is a due process violation of the most basic sort"). Our cases concerning recidivist statutes are not to the contrary. Habitual offender statutes permit the sentencing court to enhance a defendant's punishment for a crime in light of prior convictions, including convictions in foreign jurisdictions. See e. g., Ala. Code 13A-5-9 (1994); Cal. Penal Code Ann. 667.5(f), 668 (West Supp. 1996); Ill. Comp. Stat., ch. 720, 5/33B-1 (1994); N. Y. Penal Law 70.04, 70.06, 70.08, 70.10 (McKinney 1987 and Supp. 1996); Tex. Penal Code Ann. 12.42 (1994 and Supp. 1995-1996). A sentencing judge may even consider past criminal behavior which did not result in a conviction and lawful conduct that bears on the defendant's character and prospects for rehabilitation. Williams v. New York, 337 U. S. 241 (1949). But we have never held that a sentencing court could properly punish lawful conduct. This distinction is precisely the one we draw here. See n. 21, infra.

20 Given that the verdict was based in part on out-of-state conduct that was lawful where it occurred, we need not consider whether one State may properly attempt to change a tortfeasor's unlawful conduct in another State.


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