Offenses relating to public health originated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a result of the widespread distribution of food, drugs, and cosmetics and the need to control communicable diseases.
By the early 1900s, municipalities perceived the need for zoning to control nuisances and to regulate land use.
Since the middle of the twentieth century, pollution of the ground, water, and air has been recognized as a major threat to the health and welfare of the people and, indeed, to the ecological balance of the Earth.
Most states have laws restricting smoking in public places, and several have laws restricting smoking in private workplaces.
In other instances local communities have acted where the states have not.
Often antismoking laws carry minor civil penalties, and local ordinances frequently impose penalties analogous to parking fines.
Tennessee’s Littering Statute Tenn Code Ann § 39-14-502
Offense of littering. —
(a) A person commits littering who:
(1) Knowingly places, drops or throws litter on any public or private property without permission and does not immediately remove it;
(2) Negligently places or throws glass or other dangerous substances on or adjacent to water to which the public has access for swimming or wading, or on or within fifty feet (50¢) of a public highway; or
(3) Negligently discharges sewage, minerals, oil products or litter into any public waters or lakes within this state.
(b) Whenever litter is placed, dropped, or thrown from any motor vehicle, boat, airplane, or other conveyance in violation of this section, the trier of fact may, in its discretion and in consideration of the totality of the circumstances, infer that the operator of the conveyance has committed littering.
(c) Whenever litter discovered on public or private property is found to contain any article or articles, including, but not limited to, letters, bills, publications, or other writings that display the name of a person in such a manner as to indicate that the article belongs or belonged to that person, the trier of fact may, in its discretion and in consideration of the totality of the circumstances, infer that the person has committed littering.
Historically, local governments have adopted ordinances that prohibit excessive noise.
Noise control ordinances often prohibit the use of loud audio equipment where residents live in close quarters and are directed at loud late-night parties that disturb neighbors or against persons whose car stereos are played so loudly as to be an annoyance or even a safety hazard.
Prohibits the discharge of pollutants from any point source into the navigable waters of the United States unless such discharge complies with a permit issued by the EPA or by an EPA-authorized state agency.
Although enforced primarily through civil means, criminal sanctions have been imposed for knowingly discharging pollutants and for violations concerning permits and for making false statements.
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 6901-6992
Imposes criminal penalties on any person who knowingly transports or causes any hazardous waste to be transported to an unpermitted facility, or who treats, stores, or disposes of hazardous waste without a permit.
Also makes it a crime to omit material information or make false statements in any record or document required to be maintained under the regulations or submitted to the EPA or any state authorized to run RCRA programs.
Toxic Substances Control Act 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 2601-2692
Authorizes the EPA to require testing and to prohibit the manufacture, distribution, or use of certain chemical substances that present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment and to regulate their disposal.
Also prohibits commercial use of substances that the user knew or had reason to know were manufactured, processed, or distributed in violation of any provision of the TSCA.
Most enforcement is by civil means but one who knowingly or willfully fails to maintain records or submit reports as required violates the criminal provisions of the act.
Designed to finance environmental cleanup and provide for civil suits by citizens.
Requires notice to federal and state agencies of any “release” of a “reportable quantity” of a listed hazardous substance.
Imposes criminal penalties on those who act in a supervisory capacity and who are in a position to detect, prevent, and abate a release of hazardous substances.
Federal Migratory Bird Act 16 U.S.C.A. §§ 703-712
Makes it “unlawful … to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to barter, barter, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, export, import, cause to be shipped, exported, or imported, deliver for transportation, transport or cause to be transported, carry or cause to be carried, or receive for shipment, transportation, carriage, or export birds protected under the treaty.”
A violation of a regulation issued under the MBA is a misdemeanor, but a person guilty of knowingly taking a migratory bird with intent to sell or offer for sale or barter is guilty of a felony and subject to up to two years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine.
Endangered Species Act 16 U.S.C.A. §§ 1531-1544
Prohibits several specific acts regarding endangered species, and the Secretary of the Interior is further authorized to prohibit any of those acts with regard to threatened species.
Although enforcement is largely through civil penalties, criminal liability is imposed against any person who knowingly violates regulations issued under the act.
In March 1989, the supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground and ruptured, spilling more than 240,000 barrels of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound and wreaking havoc on the natural environment.
The federal government brought criminal charges against the Exxon Shipping Co. and its parent, Exxon Corporation, under the Clean Water Act, the Migratory Bird Act, the Ports and Waterway Safety Act, and the Dangerous Cargo Act.
In October 1991, one week before the case was scheduled to go to trial, Exxon accepted a plea bargain under which it agreed to plead guilty and pay $25 million in federal fines and another $100 million in restitution, split between the federal and state governments.
The $125 million fine was the largest environmental criminal fine in U.S. history.
A related civil suit resulted in a judgment against Exxon in excess of $2.5 billion.