Over the past several days, the United States Supreme Court has issued several important decisions. The media and the public are understandably lending the majority of their focus to the same-sex marriage decision released today and the healthcare decision released yesterday. However, another important decision was handed down this June. Although this decision will not affect as many Americans as the two high-profile decisions just mentioned, it will affect a smaller number of Americans in truly significant ways.
The Court’s ruling in McFadden v. United States will almost certainly impact a number of individuals convicted of drug crimes moving forward. Specifically, the case concerns the issue of so-called analogue drugs. These drugs are legally defined as those which are substantially similar in effects on the taker and in chemical structure to controlled substances.
Before an individual may be convicted of criminal wrongdoing, it must be generally proven that the individual both committed the act in question and had a certain frame of mind in regards to the act. Some federal courts in the country have ruled that in order to be convicted of certain analogue drug crimes that a defendant must have known that the drugs in question were analogues as defined by the law. Other federal courts have rejected this standard.
The Supreme Court settled this legal question earlier this month. It essentially ruled in McFadden that in order to convict someone of an analogue drug crime under the same legal standards one would convict someone of a controlled substances crime, the individual must have known that the substance in question was an analogue as defined by the law.
This is a complex ruling. Therefore, anyone charged with a drug crime involving an analogue should speak to their attorney about the impact that the ruling may have on their case. However, its complexity should not overshadow the fact that the Court has ultimately ruled in deference to criminal defendants in regards to a significant and contentious issue.
Source: SCOTUS Blog, “The required mens rea for federal narcotics offenses is getting clearer,” Rory Little, June 19, 2015