Drug Distribution Penalties Enhanced Under Controlled Substances Act
- February 24, 2014
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In order to be eligible for enhanced penalties under the Controlled Substances Act (U.S.C. Section 841(b)(1)(C)), the use of the drug distributed must independently cause the victim’s death or seriously bodily injury. In the case of Burrage v. United States, a long-time drug user in poor physical condition died after using heroin purchased from the defendant. On April 14, 2010, Banka began smoking marijuana with a friend and he later crushed and injected oxycodone pills. His wife then purchased heroin for him from Burrage which he used on at least 2 occasions that same night. In the morning of April 15, Banka’s wife woke to find him dead. Responding police found heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, alprazolam, clonazepam and syringes in the residence. At trial, testimony was presented by medical experts indicating the presence of codiene, alprazolam, clonazepam, oxycodone and herion in Banka’s system at the time of death. The experts could not conclusively say Banka would have lived had he not injected the heroin, only that it was a “contributing factor” making the death more likely. The jury convicted Burrage after the judge instructed them that the government need prove only that the heroin contributed to the death. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison under the Controlled Substances Act and the Appellate Court upheld the decision. Burrage appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The Controlled Substances Act includes a “death results” enhanced penalty which subjects drug dealers to increased sentences when someone dies as a result of using drugs the dealer sold them. The US Supreme Court held that drug use as a contributing factor to death was not sufficient to impose the enhanced penalty. The US Supreme Court found that “results from” was not defined in the Act but found it to require proof that “the harm would not have occurred in the absence of…the defendant’s conduct.” University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 570 U.S. ___________, 133 S. Ct. 2517 (2013). The Government argued that applying the ordinary meaning to “results from” would protect criminals from liability for their acts. The Supreme Court found this argument to lack merit on the grounds that, even without proof of but-for causation, criminals remain subject to the remaining provisions of U.S.C. Section 841. If you are facing charges for drug distribution, there are multiple components which may affect the ultimate outcome. Although there is often no way to obtain an acquittal in such cases, there is often great disparity in sentencing depending on the interpretation of statutes and factors applied and weighed at the time of sentencing. Drug distribution charges are met with harsh penalties due to the public interest in deterrence and it is critical that you obtain experienced criminal defense counsel to protect you against the charges and penalties. For more information regarding drug distribution, possession and possession with intent to distribute visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.