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Supreme Court Reverses Conviction in Drug Overdose Case

Supreme Court Reverses Conviction in Drug Overdose Case

The tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman has drawn a lot of attention recently to the dangers of heroin (see attached article on the subsequent investigation of his death), but a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court makes it much more difficult for the prosecution to impose harsh mandatory minimum sentences (20 years – life) in overdose cases.  The case, Burrage v. United States, held that the stiff sentencing enhancements set forth in the Controlled Substance Act cannot be imposed unless the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the controlled substance alleged to have caused the death, i.e., heroin, is the but-for cause of the death, not just a contributing cause.  In Burrage, a toxicology report showed that the victim had more than one drug in his system; therefore, the prosecution could not prove that the heroin provided by Mr. Burrage actually caused the victim’s death.  See attached opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court.  This decision will have a direct impact on past and future overdose prosecutions where a drug may have contributed to a death but cannot be shown to have been the cause-in-fact.  We may even see this decision impact the investigation of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death.  #drugs #heroin #phillipseymourhoffman #overdose #controlledsubstanceact.

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