In the aftermath of California’s energy crisis, Reliant Energy Services Inc. gained the dubious distinction in 2004 of becoming the first company in the 70-year history of the commodity price manipulation law to be charged criminally.

Now the case — on appeal before it even goes to trial — has the potential to help define when brokering an array of commodities crosses the line into criminal conduct, and to make price manipulation a more viable tool for prosecutors.

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