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Supreme Court hears arguments on aiding and abetting liability, drugs causing death

The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] Tuesday in three cases. In Rosemond v. United States [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] the court heard arguments on whether the offense of aiding and abetting the use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 USC §§ 924(c)(1)(A) and 2 [text], requires proof of intentional facilitation or encouragement of the use of the firearm, or simple knowledge that the principal used a firearm during a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime in which the defendant also participated. There has been a circuit split on the issue. In this case, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held [opinion] that the offense requires proof only of knowledge, upholding Justus Rosemond's conviction for using a firearm during a federal drug-trafficking offense. Counsel for Rosemond argued, "It has long been a bedrock principle of American law that aiding and abetting liability requires proof that an accomplice acted with purposeful intent to facilitate or encourage the crime of conviction and that mere knowing assistance is insufficient." Counsel for the US responded, "Aiding and abetting requires an intent to facilitate or encourage the commission of an offense. ... What [petitioner] is saying is something quite different. It's that you have to intend that the crime succeed."

In Burrage v. United States [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] the court heard arguments on issues related to the federal crime of distribution of drugs causing death [text]. The court was asked to consider not only if this is a strict liability [Cornell LII backgrounder] law, but also if a guilty verdict can be rendered in such a case when the jury was instructed that the drug simply had to contribute to the cause of death, not be the sole cause of death. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled [opinion] that the phrase "results from" in the statute creates a standard of "contributing cause" rather than the higher standard of "proximate cause." Counsel for Burrage argued, "This lesser standard of contributing causation was neither articulated by Congress within the words of the statute, nor was it generally accepted at the time the statute was passed, as an acceptable version of causation." Counsel for the US argued, "The situation here is very much what Congress had in mind when it sought to hold drug traffickers responsible for the results of the use of the dangerous substances in which they deal."

In Lawson v. FMR LLC [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] the court heard arguments on whether an employee of a privately-held contractor or subcontractor of a public company is protected from retaliation by Section 806 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act [18 USC § 1514A]. Section 1514A forbids a publicly traded company, a mutual fund or "any ... contractor [or] subcontractor ... of such company [to] ... discriminate against an employee in the terms and conditions of employment because of" certain protected activity. The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held [opinion] that under section 1514A such contractors and subcontractors, if privately-held, may retaliate against their own employees, and are prohibited only from retaliating against employees of the public companies with which they work. Counsel for the petitioners argued, "Section 1514A is written in the classic language which Congress utilizes to regulate relationships between employees and their employers. Legislation regarding how an entity is to treat an employee is understood to refer to the entity's own employees. And that is particularly true here where the phrase "terms and conditions" of employment is used in the statute." Counsel for the US government argued as amicus curiae in support of petitioners. Counsel for the respondents noted that more than 30 statutes use the phrase "all employers" or "no employers" and that "this statute is not phrased that way."

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