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Supreme Court overturns drug-related conviction

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When facing criminal charges in Texas, specifically drug charges, those accused must take such charges extremely seriously. A drug conviction can result in substantial jail time, damage to reputation and more that can have a long-lasting effect on one's future.

One man faced such harsh consequences when he was accused and ultimately sentenced by a federal court to distributing heroin to another which resulted in that person's death. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. However, after multiple appeals, the United States Supreme Court recently overturned the lower courts' decisions.

The victim's wife testified that her husband also used marijuana and oxycodone the day before he died. These drugs were also found in his system in the autopsy. Accordingly, experts at trial could not say for certain it was the heroin, the drug distributed by the accused man, that caused the death alone.

Per the court, Congress enacted the law in question, which requires that but for the distributed and ingested drug, the death would have not occurred. Because the prosecution did not provide sufficient evidence that but for the heroin ingestion, the death would have never occurred, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court rulings with regard to the heroin distribution resulting in death charge.

Interestingly, the corresponding state charge in Texas considers whether the illegal drug is a "contributing factor" to a death, which prosecutors may try to use in complex cases similar to this, where a number of factors could lead to a victim's passing. By way of the Court's decision here, under federal law, the drug must play a more primary role.

While this was a long-fought court battle, it is this type of criminal defense involved in both drug charges and convictions that helps protect those accused under the law. While the criminal justice system strives to create fair results, sometimes certain legal standards are misinterpreted or even abused by the court systems. Vigorous criminal defense can help work to avoid such unfavorable events at trial and beyond.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Justices Toss Conviction in Heroin-Linked Death," Barbara Leonard, Jan. 27, 2014

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