Washington, DC (January 27, 2014)—Today, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court issued an important criminal law ruling in the case of Burrage v. United States by applying the rule of lenity – a rule of statutory construction that resolves ambiguities in the language of a law in favor of the defendant. Reversing the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court held that to apply the 20-year minimum sentencing enhancement in §841(b)(1)(C) to someone convicted of selling certain substances to a user who then dies, "at least where use of the drug distributed by the defendant is not an independently sufficient cause of the victim’s death or serious bodily injury[,]" the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that "but for" the use of that particular substance, the user of the drug would be alive.
In this case, Mr. Burrage had sold one gram of heroin to someone who, according to toxicology reports introduced at trial, had a cocktail of multiple drugs in his system. The government had secured the now-reversed sentencing enhancement in the lower court through argument and a jury instruction that it is enough under the statute – the plain language of which requires that the "death … result[ed] from the use of such substance" -- to prove that the substance sold by the defendant was a "contributing cause" of the user’s death. The Supreme Court unanimously disagreed. Today’s decision in Burrage v. United States is available here.
NACDL President Jerry J. Cox said: "NACDL applauds this decision, noting that it is another important example of the Court, in this case led by Justice Scalia who authored the opinion, properly applying the rule of lenity to restrict the sprawl of an ambiguously worded federal statute that was being broadly interpreted by the lower courts."
As set forth in NACDL’s July 2013 amicus curiae brief in support of Mr. Burrage, as of that date, "[t]he Court has not had occasion to interpret the causal element of a federal criminal statute." That is no longer the case. The Court today provided guidance that could have a tangible impact on the interpretation of other criminal statutes’ causal elements.
Pattern Cross-Examination for DNA and Biological Evidence: A Trial Strategy Guide
NACDL’s Pattern Cross-Examination for DNA and Biological Evidence will assist criminal defense practitioners in scoring points when cross-examining forensic experts in cases involving DNA and biological evidence. This resource contains thousands of questions that will help defense lawyers cross-examine challenging witnesses without reinventing the wheel with each new case. It includes pattern questions that can be used to dominate prosecution DNA experts and level the playing field at trial.
Cross-Examination of the Analyst in Drug Prosecutions (2nd Ed.) By James M. Shellow
Now in its second edition with some new material, James M. Shellow’s book offers what its title promises: ways of thinking about cross-examining the forensic analysts in drug cases. But the book is so much more than that. It offers a look inside the mind of one of the finest cross-examiners and defense lawyers the United States has produced in the last seventy years. This small book can inspire and direct you in making big changes in the way you defend your clients and think about the entire project of trying any case.
Justice For All, Justice Now White T-Shirt (Women’s)
This custom, vintage-faded NACDL t-shirt is 50% polyester, 25% cotton, and 25% rayon weighing 5.2 oz. and is lightwieght, flexible and soft, providing maximum comfort. It features the "Justice For All, Justice Now" slogan and Lady Liberty image on the front, with the NACDL logo on the back. Currently available in both men's and women's sizes in both black and white colors. View the full line-up of colors and sizes on our online store, as well as our other popular and best-selling t-shirt designs at: nacdl.org/store.
Drug Cases Resource Materials Collection - CD-ROM
NACDL’s Drug Cases Resource Materials Collection is the sweeping culmination of every single article of written materials ever published from each installment of NACDL's annual "Defending Modern Drug Cases" seminar. Totaling over 12,000 pages, this vast collection includes 12+ years of motions, briefs, reports, outlines, transcripts, case citations, scholarly articles, powerpoints and other written commentaries. This collection provides trial strategies and tactics you can immediately apply to your current cases.
Mental Illness & the Law: Addressing and Litigating Behavioral Health Disorders in Criminal Cases
Whether it is insanity, impairment, a disorder, or adolescent brain development; mental health and intellectual competence issues affect pretrial supervision, trial and sentencing, and your chances of successfully advocating for your impaired client. This training provides ideas and proven solutions to assist you in advocating for your client during trial, whether it be insanity defenses, jury selection, cross of expert witnesses, persuasion, or mitigation at sentencing.
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.