High Court Limits Mandatory Minimums In Drug Deaths With Several Causes


The Supreme Court made it harder to impose strict mandatory minimum sentences on individuals convicted on the federal charge of distributing drugs that result in death, McClatchy Newspapers report. Strict liability isn’t enough. There must be a “but-for” connection between the drug and the death. In a sordid Iowa case, the unanimous court sided with Marcus Burrage, who sold heroin to long-time drug addict Joshua Banka, who died after ingesting multiple drugs.

Federal law imposes a minimum 20-year sentence for the sale of drugs where “death or serious bodily injury results from the use of such substance.” In the Burrage case, the one gram of heroin “contributed to” but was not the “but-for” cause of Banka’s death. Justice Antonin Scalia said, “the language Congress enacted requires death to ‘result from’ use of the unlawfully dis­tributed drug, not from a combination of factors to which drug use merely contributed.”

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