SCOTUS Makes It Harder to Punish Drug Dealers for Their Customers’ Deaths

In 1986 Congress prescribed a 20-year
mandatory minimum sentence for drug distribution when “death or
serious bodily injury results from” consumption of the drug. Today
the Supreme Court unanimously
ruled
that the penalty applies only when the drug was a
necessary or independently sufficient factor in the injury or
death. The justices
rejected
the government’s argument that it’s enough for the
drug to be a constributing factor.

The case involved an Iowa drug dealer named Marcus Barrage, who
sold one gram of heroin to Joshua Banka, “a long-time drug user,”
on April 14, 2010. Banka injected the heroin during “an extended
drug binge” that included several other substances. He died the
next day, and his blood tested positive not only for morphine
(which is what heroin becomes after injection) but also for
oxycodone (Percocet), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam
(Klonopin). In other words, Banka had consumed four different drugs
that cause respiratory depression, which was what killed him.

A forensic toxcicologist who testified at Barrage’s trial
could not say whether Banka would have lived had he not
taken the heroin”; instead he concluded that the heroin “was a
contributing factor.” A medical examiner likewise “described the
cause of death as ‘mixed drug intoxication,'” with each drug
“contributing.” The judge told the jury that was enough, and the
jury convicted 
Barrage of supplying a drug that
resulted in Banka’s death, thereby triggering the 20-year mandatory
minimum. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit upheld the
conviction. Overturning that decision, the Supreme Court said the
government had to show that the heroin supplied by Barrage was a
“but-for cause of death,” meaning Banka would not have died had he
not injected it.

Any legal theory that holds someone else responsible for
the reckless behavior that led to Banka’s death seems dubious to
me, rather like holding a distiller responsible for the death of a
college student who dies after chugging a bottle of whiskey.
S
o it counts as an improvement that the Court has made
that sort of case harder to argue. How much harder? According to

data
from the Drug Abuse Warning Network, the vast majority of
“drug-related deaths” involving opiates or opioids also involve one
or more other drugs. 
Justice Antonin Scalia, who
wrote the majority opinion in
Burrage v. U.S.
, nevertheless argues that “but-for
causation is not nearly the insuperable barrier the Government
makes it out to be.” He cites a couple of cases where the
prosecution managed to prove that a given drug was a necessary
factor in a user’s death even though it was not the only substance
consumed. But given how common drug combinations are in so-called
overdose deaths, today’s ruling surely makes imposing the 20-year
mandatory minimum considerably more difficult—a development that
should be welcomed by critics of draconian drug
penalties.

One can imagine situations in which a drug seller might
legitimately be held responsible for a customer’s death—if he
misrepresents the product’s potency, for example, or substitutes a
more dangerous drug for the one the buyer thinks he is getting. But
that sort of thing is much more likely to happen in the black
market created by prohibition than in a legal market. When was the
last time you bought a bottle of vodka that turned out to be
methanol instead of ethanol, or 160 proof instead of 80? The
penalty at issue in this case can be seen as a way for drug
warriors to deflect responsibility for the hazards they
create.

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SCOTUS Makes It Harder to Punish Drug Dealers for Their Customers' Deaths

In 1986 Congress prescribed a 20-year
mandatory minimum sentence for drug distribution when “death or
serious bodily injury results from” consumption of the drug. Today
the Supreme Court unanimously
ruled
that the penalty applies only when the drug was a
necessary or independently sufficient factor in the injury or
death. The justices
rejected
the government’s argument that it’s enough for the
drug to be a constributing factor.

The case involved an Iowa drug dealer named Marcus Barrage, who
sold one gram of heroin to Joshua Banka, “a long-time drug user,”
on April 14, 2010. Banka injected the heroin during “an extended
drug binge” that included several other substances. He died the
next day, and his blood tested positive not only for morphine
(which is what heroin becomes after injection) but also for
oxycodone (Percocet), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam
(Klonopin). In other words, Banka had consumed four different drugs
that cause respiratory depression, which was what killed him.

A forensic toxcicologist who testified at Barrage’s trial
could not say whether Banka would have lived had he not
taken the heroin”; instead he concluded that the heroin “was a
contributing factor.” A medical examiner likewise “described the
cause of death as ‘mixed drug intoxication,'” with each drug
“contributing.” The judge told the jury that was enough, and the
jury convicted 
Barrage of supplying a drug that
resulted in Banka’s death, thereby triggering the 20-year mandatory
minimum. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit upheld the
conviction. Overturning that decision, the Supreme Court said the
government had to show that the heroin supplied by Barrage was a
“but-for cause of death,” meaning Banka would not have died had he
not injected it.

Any legal theory that holds someone else responsible for
the reckless behavior that led to Banka’s death seems dubious to
me, rather like holding a distiller responsible for the death of a
college student who dies after chugging a bottle of whiskey.
S
o it counts as an improvement that the Court has made
that sort of case harder to argue. How much harder? According to

data
from the Drug Abuse Warning Network, the vast majority of
“drug-related deaths” involving opiates or opioids also involve one
or more other drugs. 
Justice Antonin Scalia, who
wrote the majority opinion in
Burrage v. U.S.
, nevertheless argues that “but-for
causation is not nearly the insuperable barrier the Government
makes it out to be.” He cites a couple of cases where the
prosecution managed to prove that a given drug was a necessary
factor in a user’s death even though it was not the only substance
consumed. But given how common drug combinations are in so-called
overdose deaths, today’s ruling surely makes imposing the 20-year
mandatory minimum considerably more difficult—a development that
should be welcomed by critics of draconian drug
penalties.

One can imagine situations in which a drug seller might
legitimately be held responsible for a customer’s death—if he
misrepresents the product’s potency, for example, or substitutes a
more dangerous drug for the one the buyer thinks he is getting. But
that sort of thing is much more likely to happen in the black
market created by prohibition than in a legal market. When was the
last time you bought a bottle of vodka that turned out to be
methanol instead of ethanol, or 160 proof instead of 80? The
penalty at issue in this case can be seen as a way for drug
warriors to deflect responsibility for the hazards they
create.

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Justin Bieber's Charges Dropped. Did the Cops Lie?

Pop singer and public nuisance
Justin Bieber was arrested last week by the Miami Beach Police.
While the the #FreeBieber and #DeportBieber camps of the
Twitterverse were clashing harder than Ukrainians in the streets of
Kiev, information that contradicted the police report began to
trickle out. Now, Miami-Dade County appears to have quietly
dropped several of the charges against Bieber.

Last Thursday, Bieber was pulled over while driving a rented
Lamborghini. He was allegedly participating in a drag race with
rapper Khalil Shareif. The police report
states
that the cars were moving at about “55-60 mph” in a 30
mph residential zone. An officer pulled the singer over and
“immediately smelled an odor of alcohol eminating (sic) from the
driver’s breath and bloodshot eyes. The driver had slow deliberate
movements and a stuper (sic) look on his face.”

Beiber repeatedly asked, “Why did you stop me?” and “What the
fuck did I do?”

After disregarding repeated instructions that he keep his hands
visible, the singer was arrested and charged with driving under the
influence, driving with an expired license, and resisting arrest
without violence. 

A spokesman for department later added new details
during a press conference, claiming that “during the investigation,
Mr. Bieber made statements that he had consumed some alcohol, and
that he had been smoking marijuana, and consumed some prescription
medication.”

Yet, various reports and inconsistencies indicate that the cops
may have fudged some information.

The Huffington Post
highlights
a few errors with police report. It “has marked
‘Known’ when it comes to ‘Indication of alcohol influence’ but
‘Unknown’ is the box checked regarding drug influence. So had
Bieber informed the police what he was on, they didn’t put it down
as such.” The Post also points out that the department had
a few other (less egregious) errors, such as marking Bieber as an
American citizen and mistaking his birthplace as Toronto instead of
London, Ontario.

The Miami Herald
writes
that “Bieber’s breath test did not show any substantive
alcohol use. He blew .014 and .011, well below the legal limit.”
This raises some questions about whether Bieber’s car really reeked
of alcohol. As Reason‘s
Jacob Sullum
and
Scott Shackford
have covered in the past, police don’t always
accurately identify smells.

TMZ claims that “the place where Justin and Khalil rented the
cars attached a GPS device that also tracks speed,” and that “5
blocks before cops noticed them they were going 34 MPH in a 30 mph
zone. Blocks later, they were steady at 27 mph.” A surveillance
video released by CBS Miami corroborates this,
showing
an underwhelmingly slow “drag race” and police
pursuit.

Several sources have noted that the case information listed on
the Miami-Dade County Clerk of Courts website lists
the charge of resisting arrest. This indicates that the county is
not pursuing the DUI and expired license charges.

For a different angle on Justin Bieber at Reason, read
Shikha Dalmia’s
article
 on immigration and watch Paul Detrick’s video
below:

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Justin Bieber’s Charges Dropped. Did the Cops Lie?

Pop singer and public nuisance
Justin Bieber was arrested last week by the Miami Beach Police.
While the the #FreeBieber and #DeportBieber camps of the
Twitterverse were clashing harder than Ukrainians in the streets of
Kiev, information that contradicted the police report began to
trickle out. Now, Miami-Dade County appears to have quietly
dropped several of the charges against Bieber.

Last Thursday, Bieber was pulled over while driving a rented
Lamborghini. He was allegedly participating in a drag race with
rapper Khalil Shareif. The police report
states
that the cars were moving at about “55-60 mph” in a 30
mph residential zone. An officer pulled the singer over and
“immediately smelled an odor of alcohol eminating (sic) from the
driver’s breath and bloodshot eyes. The driver had slow deliberate
movements and a stuper (sic) look on his face.”

Beiber repeatedly asked, “Why did you stop me?” and “What the
fuck did I do?”

After disregarding repeated instructions that he keep his hands
visible, the singer was arrested and charged with driving under the
influence, driving with an expired license, and resisting arrest
without violence. 

A spokesman for department later added new details
during a press conference, claiming that “during the investigation,
Mr. Bieber made statements that he had consumed some alcohol, and
that he had been smoking marijuana, and consumed some prescription
medication.”

Yet, various reports and inconsistencies indicate that the cops
may have fudged some information.

The Huffington Post
highlights
a few errors with police report. It “has marked
‘Known’ when it comes to ‘Indication of alcohol influence’ but
‘Unknown’ is the box checked regarding drug influence. So had
Bieber informed the police what he was on, they didn’t put it down
as such.” The Post also points out that the department had
a few other (less egregious) errors, such as marking Bieber as an
American citizen and mistaking his birthplace as Toronto instead of
London, Ontario.

The Miami Herald
writes
that “Bieber’s breath test did not show any substantive
alcohol use. He blew .014 and .011, well below the legal limit.”
This raises some questions about whether Bieber’s car really reeked
of alcohol. As Reason‘s
Jacob Sullum
and
Scott Shackford
have covered in the past, police don’t always
accurately identify smells.

TMZ claims that “the place where Justin and Khalil rented the
cars attached a GPS device that also tracks speed,” and that “5
blocks before cops noticed them they were going 34 MPH in a 30 mph
zone. Blocks later, they were steady at 27 mph.” A surveillance
video released by CBS Miami corroborates this,
showing
an underwhelmingly slow “drag race” and police
pursuit.

Several sources have noted that the case information listed on
the Miami-Dade County Clerk of Courts website lists
the charge of resisting arrest. This indicates that the county is
not pursuing the DUI and expired license charges.

For a different angle on Justin Bieber at Reason, read
Shikha Dalmia’s
article
 on immigration and watch Paul Detrick’s video
below:

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Ed Krayewski Talking State of the Union Promises on the Alan Nathan Show at 5pm ET

voice for printI’ll be on the Alan
Nathan
 radio show tonight at 5pm ET, talking about
tomorrow night’s State of the Union address and the huge
opportunity it presents for President Obama to pile more broken
promises on us. If you like your president, you can keep him, for
three more years. Tune in on the radio, or click here to listen online.

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Edward Snowden Senses "Significant Threats" to His Life, Supreme Court Strikes Down Part of Drug War Policy, Sochi Mayor Says No Gays in the City: P.M. Links

  • In his first television interview, Edward Snowden said he
    believes there are “significant
    threats
    ” to his life and that European efforts to protect
    citizens’ data against US surveillance by building their own
    national internet networks are
    likely to fail
    .
  • The Supreme Court has ruled that if a drug user dies or is
    seriously injured after taking in multiple substances, a dealer who
    supplied one of the items can get an enhanced sentence only if that
    one drug was the actual
    cause of the death or injury
    .
  • Smartphone games
    and apps
    , such as Angry Birds, are an easy way for spy
    agencies like the NSA to snatch all kinds of personal information,
    according to previously undisclosed classified
    documents. 
  • A Florida constitutional amendment calling for
    medical marijuana
    will be decided by Florida voters in November
    now that the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that the proposed
    initiative and ballot summary aren’t misleading.
  • A North Carolina police officer faces the second
    grand jury proceeding in a week
     for the fatal shooting of
    an ex-college football player who was reportedly seeking assistance
    after a car accident.
  • The U.S. military has carried out
    a missile strike in Somalia
    against a suspected militant leader
    with ties to al-Qaeda and al-Shabab.
  • The mayor of Sochi, Russia claims there are
    no gay people
    in the city. There is, however, a
    lot of corruption
    in how money is being used in preparation of
    the Olympics, according to a Russian opposition leader.

Get Reason.com and Reason 24/7
content 
widgets for your
websites.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter,
and don’t forget to
 sign
up
 for Reason’s daily updates for more
content.

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Edward Snowden Senses “Significant Threats” to His Life, Supreme Court Strikes Down Part of Drug War Policy, Sochi Mayor Says No Gays in the City: P.M. Links

  • In his first television interview, Edward Snowden said he
    believes there are “significant
    threats
    ” to his life and that European efforts to protect
    citizens’ data against US surveillance by building their own
    national internet networks are
    likely to fail
    .
  • The Supreme Court has ruled that if a drug user dies or is
    seriously injured after taking in multiple substances, a dealer who
    supplied one of the items can get an enhanced sentence only if that
    one drug was the actual
    cause of the death or injury
    .
  • Smartphone games
    and apps
    , such as Angry Birds, are an easy way for spy
    agencies like the NSA to snatch all kinds of personal information,
    according to previously undisclosed classified
    documents. 
  • A Florida constitutional amendment calling for
    medical marijuana
    will be decided by Florida voters in November
    now that the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that the proposed
    initiative and ballot summary aren’t misleading.
  • A North Carolina police officer faces the second
    grand jury proceeding in a week
     for the fatal shooting of
    an ex-college football player who was reportedly seeking assistance
    after a car accident.
  • The U.S. military has carried out
    a missile strike in Somalia
    against a suspected militant leader
    with ties to al-Qaeda and al-Shabab.
  • The mayor of Sochi, Russia claims there are
    no gay people
    in the city. There is, however, a
    lot of corruption
    in how money is being used in preparation of
    the Olympics, according to a Russian opposition leader.

Get Reason.com and Reason 24/7
content 
widgets for your
websites.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter,
and don’t forget to
 sign
up
 for Reason’s daily updates for more
content.

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Ira Stoll Says Guacamole Is the Real Winner of the Super Bowl

On the sidelines of the Super Bowl battle
between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos is a classic
immigrant success story. It’s the food you’ll be eating as you
watch the game – guacamole. Ira Stoll says the international
influence on Super Bowl snack food is just one way that immigrants
and their descendants have enriched the big game and America as a
whole.

View this article.

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Political Analysis vs. Tech Business in the Real World, or, Why Ezra Klein Might Not Conquer the World

Interesting and news-to-me numbers from Nicholas Carlson
at Business Insider with some
insight into why
the Washington Post was willing to
make what seemed to the political pundit class such an obvious
mistake as allowing the Brilliant Young Star ® Ezra Klein
leave them for other internet pastures.

Turns out that the same company, Vox Media, that poached Klein
and his Wonkblog did the same successfully a few years back with
the Engadget blog, on tech business and culture, and did well with
it under new umbrella of The Verge.

But those two worlds of journalism are way more different than I
knew, proving that the world (healthily) is more interested in tech
business than they are in Washington brouhahas and Bigthink:

Unlike Engadget, Wonkblog is tiny.

….Wonkblog averages 4 million pageviews per
month.

By comparison, when Vox raided Engadget, Engadget was
huge. In December 2010, Engadget had more than 12 million
unique visitors and more than 200 million pageviews……

With various reasonable guesses, Carlson concludes
that:

….a safe estimate for Wonkblog 2.0 is that it will
generate $500,000 in annual revenues for Vox in its first few
years. {But] [f]
or the bottom line figure, Bankoff
will probably need red ink. Klein already has 8 staffers and
he wants to hire 22 more. Each staffer will probably cost at least
$100,000 in salary and benefits. 

And getting fresh traffic, even with old stars, isn’t that
sure a thing:

….three years after…Vox raided Engadget, The Verge is
now up to 10 million unique visitors per month – about 83% the size
of Engadget back then.

Vox is, of course, thrilled to have a site that is 83% the size
of Engadget in 2010. 

But, in 2016, will it be thrilled to have a site that 83% the
size of Wonkblog in 2014? 

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Bitcoin-Inspired Project Launched to Decentralize the Internet

Bitcoin, the peer-to-peer cryptocurrency is
taking the conventional financial system by storm. The Bitcoin boom
has inspired developers to explore additional applications of the
same fundamental protocols. Ambitious Bitcloud developers are
asking, why not the use the same tools to decentralize the
Internet?

BBC News
quotes
the project’s anonymous founders issuing this call to
arms:

If you’re interested in privacy, security, ending internet
censorship, decentralising the internet and creating a new mesh
network to replace the internet, then you should join or support
this project.

The advantages of a Bitcloud network are many. Bitcloud’s
decentralized structure would allow users to sidestep National
Security Agency (NSA) snoops. While natural disasters and wars
threaten a centralized structure, a decentralized structure would
mean the Internet is more likely to remain intact.

How does it work? Under the current system, consumers are
dependent on concentrated Internet Service Providers, businesses
like Comcast and AT&T, that offer Internet access. Just as
Bitcoin removes financial intermediaries from the system, Bitcloud
hopes to displace intermediary ISPs. While ISPs are at risk of
interference, a decentralized system is irrepressible. Shutting
down a decentralized internet would require targeting and
destroying each individual node.

Bitcoin requires miners who contribute computing power to
process transactions. Similarly, Bitcloud rewards users for
contributing bandwidth. Basically, ISPs would be replaced by
individuals whose computers “would perform tasks such as storing,
routing and providing bandwidth, in return for payment.”

Some tech intellectuals have called for a decentralized Internet
structure, or mesh networks, in the past. Primavera De
Filippi, a Harvard research fellow of distributed online
architectures,
argues
 that beyond the “obvious benefits” like
NSA-resistance and enhanced reliability, it provides some
interesting cultural benefits. “What’s really revolutionary about
mesh networking isn’t the novel use of technology. It’s the fact
that it provides a means for people to self-organize
into communities and share resources amongst themselves: Mesh
networks are operated by the community, for the community.
Especially because the internet has become essential to our
everyday life” she wrote in Wired.

According to BBC News,
Bitcloud developers hope Bitcloud will ultimately supplant the
Internet. De Filippi, on the other hand, thinks mesh-networks would
make a good supplementary tool.

But either way, BitCloud is a revolutionary project with global
reach. It would provide users with more reliable Internet, handicap
government surveillance, and maybe even save
lives
.

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