- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette, Jan. 28, 2014

Congress should fix sentencing law in wake of high court ruling

Drug dealers prosecuted under current federal law are not only punished for their line of work, but for the consequences in some cases.

The law tacks on a mandatory 20-year sentence enhancement when “death or serious bodily injury results from the use” of a drug that can be traced backed to the dealer.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

Not really.

Back in 2011, an Iowa man named Marcus Burrage was convicted of selling heroin to a Nevada man, Joshua Banka.

Banka took the heroin home to Nevada and used the drug as part of a binge that also included marijuana, prescription drugs and OxyContin, whereupon he promptly died of an overdose.

The prosecutor in Burrage’s trial argued the drugs Burrage sold contributed to Banka’s death, and the jury agreed that sentencing Burrage to 20 years for selling dope and another 20 years for Banka’s death.

Burrage’s attorneys appealed, saying while the heroin may have contributed to Banka’s untimely end, that is not the same as concluding his death resulted specifically from the heroin.

The appeal wound up before the U.S. Supreme Court in November. That body rendered its decision on Monday.

It was unanimous - contributing to a death is not the same as causing that death.

The court ruled there was insufficient evidence the heroin was the major factor in Banka’s overdose.

“Is it sufficient that use of a drug made the victim’s death 50 percent more likely?” Scalia wrote in the court’s ruling, “Fifteen percent? Five? Who knows. Uncertainty of that kind cannot be squared with the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard applicable in criminal trials.”

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