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Attorneys Argue Individuals Who Suffered Food Poisoning Are Not “Victims”

In the federal criminal trial of Stewart and Michael Parnell, federal criminal defense attorneys are arguing that individuals who suffered food poisoning as a result of Salmonella poisoning are not “crime victims” under the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act. The Parnell brothers are facing an upcoming sentencing hearing following their conviction for a number of fraud and conspiracy charges for their involvement in outbreak. The outbreak of Salmonella led to the investigation of Peanut Corporation of America and the Parnell brothers (as well as others).

The Crime Victims’ Rights Act: Who is a “Victim”?

Under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA) and related statutes, a criminal defendant who commits a crime against a “crime victim” can have his or her sentenced enhanced such that the length of the defendant’s sentence is increased. In order for this enhancement to apply, it must be shown that there is a “crime victim” in the case. The term “crime victim” is defined as “a person directly or proximately harmed as a result of the commission of a federal offense or an offense in the District of Columbia.” The term “directly or proximately harmed” would cover situations in which:

  • The defendant is found to have caused harm to the victim through the defendant’s own actions; or
  • The defendant set in motion a series of events that ultimately caused harm to the victim so long as the victim would not have suffered the harm but for the defendant’s actions.

The “harm” mentioned by the statute can include both physical harm such as injuries and death as well as financial harm.

The Difficulty in Showing “Harm” from the Parnells’ Conspiracy and Fraud Charges

The Parnells’ defense attorney is seeking to prohibit victims and their families of the Salmonella outbreak from testifying at the Parnell’s sentencing hearing as “crime victims.” The attorneys are arguing that the Parnells’ involvement in the Salmonella outbreak was limited to distributing Peanut Corporation of America goods to other corporate entities. These corporate entities would then transform the goods through their own processes into other consumer goods. Peanut Corporation did not ship goods directly to consumers, nor does it appear to have been proven that Peanut Corporation had obtained any money from consumers. Thus, according to the attorneys, they cannot show that the consumers who became ill and/or died would not have been injured but for the actions of the Parnell brothers.

Why the Assistance of a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

When you are charged with a federal offense and accused of causing harm to a “crime victim,” the already-hefty penalties you face can be enhanced and made even more serious. It is important to retain legal counsel and representation from a federal criminal defense attorney like Jeffrey S. Weiner. Attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner can analyze the facts of your situation and will exploit weaknesses and gaps in the prosecution’s evidence, increasing your chances of a favorable outcome. Contact his South Florida office today by calling (305) 670-9919 or online.

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