- The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted to 2-1 to uphold the three-month jail sentences given to two egg executives whose company was linked to a massive salmonella outbreak in 2010.
- Experts linked the outbreak to unsanitary conditions at Austin "Jack" DeCoster and his son Peter's Quality Egg LLC farms. Experts say the pair was aware of the issues, but did not fix them.
- Judge Diana Murphy rejected the DeCosters' appeal, which argued sending corporate executives to prison is not fair if subordinates were responsible for the safety violations, or if the executives were not aware of them. Murphy said the statute did not require executives' knowledge of the violations for them to be criminally liable.
While the appellate court made its ruling, the case may not be finished. Other organizations have filed amicus briefs, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, in support of the DeCosters. An attorney for the DeCosters may also try to file for a re-hearing, according to a Food Safety News report.
The main issue at hand is whether corporate executives can receive jail sentences for misdemeanor charges related to violations they say did not know about or were out of their control. This case could set a precedent that will make food and beverage safety an even graver situation for those in charge.
The DeCosters each paid a $100,000 fine in the case, but appealed their jail sentences as unconstitutional. They say prosecutors cannot prove the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing involved in a crime, therefore jail sentences are not a suitable punishment.
Any precedent this case sets wouldn't have mattered to some past food-safety lawsuits. For example, prosecutors had proof that Peanut Corporation of America CEO Stewart Parnell -- currently serving a 28-year prison sentence -- knowingly shipped out salmonella-contaminated peanut butter.
But the course of the DeCosters' appeal could impact future food safety cases. If the final ruling is in favor of the DeCosters, in order for executives to serve jail time, prosecutors may have to provide evidence of prior knowledge or intention. If they lose the appeal, this case could become an oft-cited precedent for future criminal charges that consumers or the Department of Justice bring against food and beverage executives.