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National Crime Victim Law Institute

In re Allen, No. 12-40954 (5th Cir. Sept. 6, 2012) (per curiam order).

September 07, 2012

A jury convicted corporate defendants CITGO Petroleum Corporation and CITGO Refining and Chemicals Company, L.P., of illegally operating two large tanks in a Texas refinery without first installing emission control devices as required by the Clean Air Act.  The tanks contained chemicals including benzene and other hazardous compounds.  As a result of this crime, members of a residential community adjacent to the refinery were exposed to noxious chemical air emissions for nine years.  Two months before sentencing, the community members, represented by their own counsel, filed a motion to be recognized as “crime victims” under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), 18 U.S.C. § 3771, and to exercise their right to be heard at sentencing.  The federal district court had previously denied the government’s motion to establish the community members as “crime victims” under the CVRA, concluding that the community members were not “crime victims” because the government had not sufficiently shown that they were “harmed.”  Without reaching the merits of the community members’ arguments, the district court denied their motion on the ground that it was untimely.  Although acknowledging the community members’ right to file the motion, the district court found that they should have filed four years before when the government filed the similar motion.  The community members petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, seeking review of the district court’s orders and requesting a writ of mandamus directing the district court to recognize them as crime victims under the CVRA.  On review, the appellate court concluded that the CVRA does not contain a time limit within which the community members must file their motion for crime victim status; it found that the CVRA only contains a time limit for requests to reopen a plea or sentence.  Accordingly, the court granted the petition, in part, and issued a writ of mandamus directing the district court to hear the arguments raised in the community members’ motion for crime victim status.