SCOTUS to consider if people can be prosecuted for infecting workers with a virus

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will take up a case concerning whether the Constitution allows a business owner to be prosecuted for infecting workers with a virus because he couldn’t resist…

SCOTUS to consider if people can be prosecuted for infecting workers with a virus

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will take up a case concerning whether the Constitution allows a business owner to be prosecuted for infecting workers with a virus because he couldn’t resist the temptation to use them to carry out a sexual encounter.

The high court’s decision to hear the case raises the question of whether the Constitution prevents the government from charging any single individual with a crime when a number of people may be involved in one illegal act.

The case involves Donald Smith, a former truck driver from Tennessee, who pleaded guilty in 2009 to attempted child molestation in Fairfax County, Virginia. He was put on three years’ probation after paying a $1,000 fine and agreeing to register as a sex offender for 15 years.

But Smith also pleaded guilty to infecting workers at his Hampstead, Maryland, truck-stop business with a virus that could lead to sterility and fertility problems. U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake fined Smith $50,000 and ordered him to pay $50,000 in restitution to Smith’s former employees.

Smith’s lawyers argued the sex crimes under federal law predated the civil fraud allegations they asserted in the criminal case.

“Every term in the indictment is predicated on criminal conduct, including four counts of sex with a child,” their lawyers wrote. “The Justice Department was entitled to seek criminal penalties under the law, but should not be allowed to pretend these same counts extended beyond that charge.”

A civil court initially dismissed the fraud charges that had been added to the criminal case by the Justice Department. But after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in 2015 to reconsider the case, prosecutors filed a renewed effort to add the fraud charges and win a sanction against Smith of $500,000.

Federal prosecutors contend that when Smith infected his drivers with the virus so they could have sex with other truck drivers, it wasn’t just an unconsummated sexual encounter, it was a crime. The government said federal prosecutors got caught up in a technical procedural matter when they brought the new charge. The issue now is whether the justice department moved too quickly in bringing the new charges.

The Supreme Court will hear Smith’s case from a brief order the justices issued Tuesday and rules in the coming weeks.

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