The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the legality of three- month prison sentences handed down to former Quality Egg, LLC executives Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son Peter, former officials of the company deemed responsible for a 2010 Salmonella outbreak traced to its Iowa egg farms. United States v. Quality Egg, LLC, No. 15-1890 (8th Cir., order entered July 6, 2016).
Convicted of misdemeanor violations of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), the DeCosters argued their sentences were unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause and the Eighth Amendment because incarceration for their offenses is either altogether inappropriate or disproportionate to the crimes. Upon a de novo review of the case, the appeals court confirmed that “the DeCosters are liable for negligently failing to prevent the salmonella outbreak.” Further, the men’s sentences did not violate the Due Process Clause because the sentences were “relatively short” and the “convictions do not gravely damage their reputations”; in addition, no criminal intent was required to underlie the conviction because “Congress has seen fit to enforce the accountability of responsible corporate agents dealing with products which may affect the health of consumers by penal sanctions cast in rigorous terms.”
The court further found the sentences did not violate the Eighth Amendment, as the terms “fell at the low end of the prescribed statutory range of [the FDCA] (one year maximum), and we have ‘never held a sentence within the statutory range to violate the Eighth Amendment.'’’ Details about the criminal case appear in Issue 524 of this Update.