BMW of North America v. Gore

In BMW of North America v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996), the defendant was assessed punitive damages for activities in other states, which were explicitly legal in those states. By punishing behavior in other states which those states had made a legislative decision to permit, Alabama reached beyond its own zone of legitimate interests and encroached on the sovereign interests of other states. BMW, 517 U.S. at 570-72. The Supreme Court used habitual offender statutes to illustrate that these issues of sovereignty and comity do not arise when the behavior punished is not lawful in the other jurisdictions: Habitual offender statutes permit the sentencing court to enhance a defendant's punishment for a crime in light of prior convictions, including convictions in foreign jurisdictions. A sentencing judge may even consider past criminal behavior which did not result in a conviction and lawful conduct that bears on the defendant's character and prospects for rehabilitation. But we have never held that a sentencing court could properly punish lawful conduct. This distinction is precisely the one we draw here. Id. at 573 n.19.