SCOTUSblog: Burrage v. United States
Argument: Nov 12 2013 (Aud.)
Background: Burrage sold heroin to Banka, who later died. A forensic toxicologist and a doctor from the State Medical Examiner's Office said that heroin contributed to Banka's death, but neither could say that Banka would not have died if he had not taken the heroin. Nonetheless, a jury convicted Burrage of distribution of heroin and distribution of heroin resulting in death, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed. Burrage's appeal is based on the argument that a death that "results from" heroin required the prosecution to show "proximate cause" (but for the heroin, Banka's death would not have happened); and that heroin contributed to Banka's death as part of a larger mixed drug intoxication was not sufficient to show that it resulted from heroin.
Issue: The questions before the Court are (1) whether the crime of distribution of drugs causing death is a strict liability crime, without a foreseeability or proximate cause requirement; and (2) whether a person can be convicted for distribution of heroin causing death utilizing jury instructions which allow a conviction when the heroin that was distributed “contributed to,” death by “mixed drug intoxication,” but was not the sole cause of death of a person.