On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments for two cases involving criminal defendants convicted of drug crimes. One defendant was convicted of distributing heroin that killed a drug user in Iowa, while the other was convicted of aiding and abetting the use of a firearm in the course of drug trafficking in Utah.
In the former case, the man was sentenced to 20 years, and in the latter case, 10 years. Both appeals centered on the issue of what evidence prosecutors needed to prove for convictions on certain federal offenses.
In the Iowa case, the defendant argued that prosecutors need to show that the heroin taken by the man who died was more than simply a possible factor in his death. This they did not do at trial, and as Justice Elena Kagan pointed out, there was no information regarding the extent to which heroin caused the man’s death.
In the Utah case, the defendant argued that prosecutors must show that he took action to encourage the use of a firearm for him to be convicted of the offense of aiding and abetting. This was not shown at trial.
Evidentiary issues can come up in criminal cases which can either strengthen a criminal defendant’s case or weaken it. It is important to know how to navigate these issues when they arise. Failure to address these issues with knowledge and experience can lead to an undesirable outcome. Working with an experienced attorney is particularly important on appeal, where knowledge of the law must be combined with persuasive ability.
Source: Chicago Tribune, “Heroin overdose, drug deal cases go before Supreme Court,” Lawrence Hurley, November 12, 2013.