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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Int'l Minerals & Chem. Corp. - 402 U.S. 558, 91 S. Ct. 1697 (1971)

Rule:

The principle that "ignorance of the law is no defense" applies whether the law be a statute or a duly promulgated and published regulation.

Facts:

Under 18 U.S.C.S. § 834, the Department of Transportation is granted power to formulate regulations for the safe transportation of corrosive liquids and other dangerous articles, and criminal sanctions are provided for whoever "knowingly violates any such regulation." In a criminal proceeding in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, the information charged International Minerals & Chemical Corp. (IMC) with shipping sulfuric acid and hydrofluosilicic acid in interstate commerce and with knowingly failing to show on the shipping papers the classification of the shipment as corrosive liquid, in violation of 49 C.F.R 173.427, a Department of Transportation regulation requiring that the classification of certain hazardous materials appear on the shipping papers for such materials. Holding that the information did not charge IMC with "knowingly" violating the regulation, the District Court dismissed the information. The government appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and the Court of Appeals certified the case to the United States Supreme Court.

Issue:

Did an information criminally charging a company with transportation of corrosive liquids and other dangerous articles require that the company "knowingly" violate the regulation?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court indicated that the act under which the regulation was promulgated, 18 U.S.C.S. § 834(f), did not require proof of knowledge of the law, as well as the facts. The Court noted that the meager legislative history made unwarranted the conclusion that Congress abandoned the general rule that ignorance of the law was no defense and required knowledge of both the facts and the pertinent law before a criminal conviction could be sustained under the act. The court noted that so far as possession of a hazardous chemical was concerned, a person thinking in good faith that he was shipping distilled water when in fact he was shipping some dangerous acid would not be covered. But where hazardous chemicals were involved, the probability of regulation was so great that anyone who was aware that he was in possession of them or dealing with them had to be presumed to have been aware of the regulation.

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