Tuesday, May 10, 2005

US v. Houston

No. 04-30216 (5-9-05). The 9th holds that there is no "proximate cause" in a drug prosecution under 21 USC 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C) for a related death. Here, defendant obtained methadone from her doctor and then sold it to a friend, who overdosed and died. The defendant was charged with distributing and because a death resulted, faced a mandatory minimum of 20 years. The court instructed the jury that they had to find "proximate cause" between the defendant's actions and the death. That is, it had to be reasonably foreseeable. This instruction as challenged, as was the sufficiency of evidence. The 9th affirmed the conviction, holding that the instruction was error because it placed too high a burden on the gov't. The 9th recognized that in Main (an involuntary manslaughter prosecution for criminal negligence), there is a place for proximate cause, but in this statute, with the plain language of "resulting from," all the gov't had to prove was cause in fact; that is, did the act lead to the death. Proximate cause is not required where foreseeability is not implicit in the common understanding of the offense. The 9th thus joins the other circuits that have considered this issue. Moreover, the plain language of the statute supports this reading, as it only requires "results and not foreseeability. The 9th also found that there was sufficient evidence.


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