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Burrage v. United States

Supreme Court of the United States

November 12, 2013, Argued; January 27, 2014, Decided

No. 12-7515


 [*206]  [**885]   Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court. 1

The Controlled Substances Act imposes a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence on a defendant who unlawfully distributes a Schedule I or II drug, when “death or serious bodily injury results from the use of such substance.” 21 U. S. C. §841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A)-(C) (2012 ed.). We consider whether the mandatory-minimum provision applies when use of a covered drug supplied by the defendant contributes to, but is not a but-for cause of, the victim’s death or injury.

Joshua Banka, a long-time drug user, died on April 15, 2010, following an extended drug binge. The episode began on the morning of April 14, when Banka smoked marijuana at a former roommate’s home. Banka stole oxycodone pills from the roommate before departing and later crushed, cooked, and injected the oxycodone. Banka and his wife, Tammy Noragon Banka (Noragon), then met with petitioner Marcus Burrage and purchased one gram of heroin from him. Banka immediately cooked and injected some of the  [****5] heroin and, after returning home, injected more heroin between midnight and 1 a.m. on April 15. Noragon went to sleep at around 5 a.m., shortly after witnessing Banka prepare another batch of heroin. When Noragon woke up a few hours later, she found Banka dead in the bathroom and called 911. A search of the couple’s home and car turned up syringes, 0.59 grams of heroin, alprazolam and clonazepam tablets, oxycodone pills, a bottle of hydrocodone, and other drugs.

Burrage pleaded not guilty to a superseding indictment alleging two counts of distributing heroin in violation of §841(a)(1). Only one of those offenses, count 2, is at issue here. (Count 1 related to an alleged distribution of heroin  [*207]  five months earlier than the sale to Banka.) Count 2 alleged that Burrage unlawfully distributed heroin on April 14, 2010, and that “death . . . resulted from the use of th[at] substance” — thus subjecting Burrage to the 20-year mandatory minimum of §841(b)(1)(C).

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571 U.S. 204 *; 134 S. Ct. 881 **; 187 L. Ed. 2d 715 ***; 2014 U.S. LEXIS 797 ****; 82 U.S.L.W. 4076; 122 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 237; 24 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 531; 2014 WL 273243


Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Subsequent History: On remand at, Remanded by United States v. Burrage, 744 F.3d 593, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 4256 (8th Cir. Iowa, Mar. 7, 2014)


United States v. Burrage, 687 F.3d 1015, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 16286 (8th Cir. Iowa, Aug. 6, 2012)

Disposition: Reversed and remanded.


but-for, heroin, causation, sentences, causality, oxycodone, proximate

Criminal Law & Procedure, Controlled Substances, Delivery, Distribution & Sale, Penalties, Sentencing, Ranges, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Criminal Process, Right to Jury Trial, Trials, Burdens of Proof, Prosecution, Imposition of Sentence, Statutory Maximums, Criminal Offenses, General Overview, Torts, Elements, Causation, Causation in Fact, Proximate Cause, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Interpretation, Rule of Lenity