The Oregon Administrative Rules contain OARs filed through April 15, 2017







Background and Purpose of Guidelines for Prosecution of Environmental Crimes

The 1993 legislature adopted Senate Bill 912 (codified as ORS 468.920 - 468.963), which establishes criminal penalties for certain violations of environmental laws. Section 19 of Senate Bill 912, ORS 468.961, provides that the district attorney of each county shall adopt written guidelines for filing felony criminal charges under Senate Bill 912. It also requires the Attorney General to adopt model guidelines that district attorneys may adopt as their written guidelines. These model guidelines address each of the factors listed in ORS 468.961(2).

Stat. Auth.: ORS 468.961
Stats. Implemented: ORS 468.961
Hist. JD 3-1994, f. & cert. ef. 6-16-94


General Principles for Prosecutors to Consider

(1)(a) Each of the acts that Senate Bill 912 makes a felony also violates a civil regulatory statute or administrative rule. For most violations, administrative remedies and civil penalties are an appropriate and adequate response. For some violations, however, criminal sanctions are necessary adequately to punish offenders and to deter similar conduct in the future by the violator or others. For still other violations, both civil/administrative and criminal remedies may be appropriate;

(b) These guidelines are intended to assist prosecutors in deciding when to file criminal charges. Prosecutors are to coordinate with local, state and federal regulatory agencies in making those decisions. Frequently, those agencies may be able to provide the prosecutor with the most accurate information about the degree of harm caused by a violation, the violator's past record of compliance or noncompliance with the law, the appropriate regulatory agency's past handling of similar violations, and other information pertinent to the decision to file or not to file criminal charges.

(2) For purposes of these guidelines the term "person" includes corporations. The term "prosecutor" includes district attorneys and the Attorney General.

(3)(a) The decision to prosecute or not to prosecute a particular violation of environmental laws is a matter of prosecutorial discretion to be exercised in light of the specific circumstances of each case. The guidelines are intended to promote consistency by making sure that all prosecutors consider the same factors before initiating a prosecution under Senate Bill 912. The intent of the guidelines is to guide the prosecutor's exercise of discretion, however, not to replace it with a formula;

(b) The statute requires prosecutors to consider and apply the guidelines before initiating a prosecution, but the weight to be given each factor is a matter of prosecutorial discretion to be determined on a case-by-case basis. The prosecutor's certification in accordance with ORS 468.961(4) establishes conclusively that the prosecutor has applied the guidelines as required by statute and that the criminal charges are being filed in accordance with the guidelines.

(4) The factors listed in ORS 468.961(2) are nonexclusive. In appropriate cases, prosecutors should also consider additional factors, such as:

(a) The probable efficacy and enforceability of civil penalties and remedial orders;

(b) The impact of criminal prosecution on civil regulatory objectives, including prompt remediation of pollution and its effects;

(c) The likelihood that a prosecution will result in a conviction;

(d) The probable sentence if a conviction is obtained; and

(e) The cost of a prosecution, the resources available to the prosecutor, and the severity of the offense compared to other offenses that would not be prosecuted if the prosecutor uses available resources to prosecute an offense under Senate Bill 912.

Stat. Auth.: ORS 468.961
Stats. Implemented: ORS 468.961
Hist. JD 3-1994, f. & cert. ef. 6-16-94


Specific Factors for Prosecutors to Consider and Apply

The following guidelines address each of the factors listed in ORS 468.961(2). Each subsection lists the statutory factor, followed by a suggestion of how the prosecutor might weigh that factor in deciding whether or not to file criminal charges in a particular case.

(1) The complexity and clarity of the statute or regulation violated. The more complex the regulation or regulatory scheme, the greater is the likelihood that a person could violate a statute or regulation despite making a good faith effort to comply with the law. The prosecutor may also consider whether the violation is so egregious that, despite the complexity of the statute or regulation, the person should have known that the person's action was unlawful or the person's conduct was nonetheless reckless as to the consequences for human health or the environment.

(2) The extent to which the person was or should have been aware of the requirement violated. This factor is a corollary to section (l) of this rule. The following questions are examples of the type of questions that may aid the prosecutor in applying this factor. To answer these questions, prosecutors are encouraged to confer with the appropriate regulatory agency (e.g., Department of Environmental Quality):

(a) Is it clear on the face of the regulation that the regulation applies to the person and the activity in question? If not, is applicability determined by agency guidance or policy that is distributed to the persons or entities subject to the regulation? Has the agency clearly defined the conduct that would violate the regulation?

(b) Is the applicable statute or regulation readily available to the person? Is its applicability based on a new interpretation of existing statutes or rules?

(c) Does the person engage in a heavily regulated occupation or industry, subject to substantial environmental regulation of the media at issue, so that knowledge of environmental requirements at issue should be an elementary part of doing business?

(d) Is the occupation or industry one in which hiring environmental consultants is commonplace or regulatory agencies offer technical assistance or published guidance?

(e) Do specific circumstances show that the person knew or clearly should have known that the conduct violated the law?

(3) The existence and effectiveness of the person's program to promote compliance with environmental regulations. The existence of a bona fide effective compliance program suggests that the violation more likely is isolated and that the person has means in place to prevent future violations or detect future violations before they result in substantial harm to human beings or the environment. The existence of an effective compliance program, however, does not negate the possibility that a person has knowingly violated the law or caused substantial harm.

(4) The magnitude and probability of the actual or potential harm to humans or to the environment. The greater the magnitude, probability and foreseeability of harm, the greater is the need for criminal sanctions. In considering the magnitude of harm, the prosecutor should consider the toxicity of the pollutant or regulated substance, and whether the harm is long-lasting or can be remedied promptly. If the person's conduct created a great risk of substantial harm, the fact that little or no harm actually occurred may carry little weight in deciding whether or not to prosecute. The appropriate regulatory agency can provide technical assistance to the prosecutor in evaluating the magnitude, probability and foreseeability of harm.

(5) The need for public sanctions to protect human health and the environment or to deter others from committing similar violations:

(a) A person's persistent and willful violation of environmental laws may mean that incarceration is necessary to protect human health and the environment from the person's criminal activity;

(b) If the requirement that has been violated applies to many citizens or businesses, its enforcement may also deter others from violating that requirement or similar requirements. In addition, the prosecution may create general deterrence against violations of other environmental laws in addition to the specific statute or regulation that was violated in the particular case. Prosecutors should also consider whether more consistent or stringent civil/administrative remedies would be sufficient to deter violations.

(6) The person's history of repeated violations of environmental laws after having been given notice of those violations:

(a) Repeated violations after notice imply intentional criminal conduct, which makes criminal sanctions more appropriate. Repeated violations also support an inference that prior civil/administrative remedies, if invoked, were insufficient to deter misconduct, making criminal sanctions appropriate under the same rationale as described under section (5) of this rule;

(b) By contrast, past determinations by the appropriate regulatory agency that a similar violation did not warrant substantial civil/administrative sanctions may suggest that criminal sanctions are inappropriate, under the rationale described in section (9) of this rule. Regulatory agencies can provide the prosecutor with information about the person's previous violations, the person's subsequent compliance efforts, past agency contacts with the person, and past agency enforcement actions.

(7) The person's false statements, concealment of misconduct or tampering with monitoring or pollution control equipment. Knowingly false statements, concealment and tampering imply intentional misconduct, making criminal sanctions more appropriate. In addition, because the regulatory scheme for many environmental laws relies heavily on self-reporting, false statements, concealment and tampering undermine the integrity of the regulatory system. Where the deviation from reporting requirements is unintentional, however, civil and administrative remedies usually should provide an adequate sanction.

(8) The person's cooperation with regulatory authorities, including voluntary disclosure and prompt subsequent efforts to comply with applicable regulations and to remedy harm caused by the violations:

(a) Voluntary disclosure and prompt efforts to remove violations and remedy harm suggest that criminal prosecution probably is not necessary for public retribution or deterrence of future violations by the same person;

(b) Voluntary disclosure and remediation may also reduce the likelihood that a prosecution would succeed. ORS 468.959(4) provides an affirmative defense for a defendant who:

(A) Did not cause or create the condition or occurrence constituting the offense;

(B) Reported the violation promptly to the appropriate regulatory agency; and

(C) Took reasonable steps to correct the violation. Similar conditions apply to the affirmative defenses of "upset" and "bypass," defined in ORS 468.959(2). If admissible evidence establishes an affirmative defense, criminal prosecution is neither appropriate nor fruitful.

(9) The appropriate regulatory agency's current and past policy and practice regarding the enforcement of the applicable environmental law. If the regulatory agency having jurisdiction has determined that a violation is not serious enough to merit civil or administrative enforcement under current agency policy, criminal sanctions usually would be disproportionate to the severity of the violation. In addition, fairness suggests that regulated persons should have notice that their misconduct will be subject to sanctions; a regulatory practice of nonenforcement of the law in question usually would be at odds with fair notice of criminal liability.

(10) The person's good faith effort to comply with the law to the extent practicable. Although it is not conclusive, a person's good faith effort to comply with the law is a factor that weighs against criminal prosecution. In some instances, a given regulation may be so strict that full compliance or compliance 100 percent of the time is virtually impossible. An operator's view of what is practicable, however, does not substitute for legal requirements, and the decision as to what constitutes a good faith effort to comply with the law for purposes of this factor rests with the prosecutor. In appropriate cases, that decision may be influenced by section 17 of Senate Bill 912, which provides affirmative defenses called "upset" and "bypass" to recognize that certain temporary violations of environmental laws do not entail fault for which sanctions should be imposed.

Stat. Auth.: ORS 468.961
Stats. Implemented: ORS 468.961
Hist. JD 3-1994, f. & cert. ef. 6-16-94

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