States may not force people to pay drug-possession taxes in addition to criminal penalties, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.
Such taxes are barred by the Constitution's ban on double punishment for the same crime, the court's 5-4 decision in a Montana case said.Most states impose such taxes on people already convicted of drug-possession crimes. Monday's decision striking down the Montana tax calls into question the validity of those laws.
In other actions Monday, the justices:
- Ruled that prison officials can be forced to pay damages when inmates are attacked by fellow prisoners only if the officials knowingly disregarded an excessive risk of harm.
- Ruled the federal Superfund law does not allow those who clean up their environmental contamination to recover legal fees they incur in getting other polluters to help pay for the cleanup.
- Refused to let a public school district charge church congregations higher rents than other noncommercial groups for the weeknight or weekend use of school buildings.
In the drug-possession tax case, the court's decision also freed a family from having to pay $181,000 in dangerous-drug taxes for growing marijuana on the Chouteau County, Mont., ranch and farm it used to own.
"Montana has not claimed that its assessment in this case even remotely approximates the cost of investigating, apprehending and prosecuting (the defendants), or that it roughly relates to any actual damages that they caused the state," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court.