E. Supp.

A Simple Concept in a Complicated World: Actual Causation, Mixed-Drug Deaths and the Eighth Circuit’s Opinion in United States v. Burrage

Abstract: On August 6, 2012, in United States v. Burrage, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the conviction of a defendant for the crime of distribution of drugs resulting in death where the defendant sold heroin that played a part in a mixed-drug overdose death. The court reasoned that the statute, which provides for a mandatory twenty-year prison sentence when a defendant sells illegal drugs and a death results, only requires that the de-fendant’s drugs contribute to the death. This Comment argues that the contributory cause standard of actual causation endorsed by the Eighth Circuit is flawed and that, on review, the U.S. Supreme Court should hold that the crime of distribution resulting in death requires a showing that the defendant’s drugs are a but-for cause of the death. When the but-for test of actual causation falters in the context of a death with multiple sufficient causes, courts should explain to jurors how they may find actual cause in these instances without resorting to the imperfect contributory cause standard.

:: View PDF