The Supreme Court has ruled on a drug law that gave drug dealers tougher sentences if their drugs contributed to a client’s harm or death. On Monday, the Court ruled unanimously in favor of Marcus Burrage, a heroin dealer who was sentenced to an additional 20 years in prison because a client died after taking Burrage’s heroin. His sentence was based on a 1986 law that provided a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence for drug dealers if “death or seriously bodily injury results from the use” of their drugs.
In Burrage’s case, it was not clear that his heroin sale was the sole cause of the client’s death since other drugs were also in the client’s system. In his ruling, Justince Antonin Scalia said, “Is it sufficient that use of a drug made the victim’s death 50 percent more likely? Fifteen percent? Five? Who knows? Uncertainty of that kind cannot be squared with the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard applicable in criminal trials or with the need to express criminal laws in terms ordinary persons can comprehend.”
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