Recently, there have been several drug busts of Oklahoma businesses like Ziggy’s for selling synthetic marijuana or other synthetic substances that used improperly would resulting in a person getting high. There is a case pending in front of the United States Supreme Court that could affect these cases.
Illegal drugs can take several different forms, depending on criteria such as whether they are organic or inorganic, or how they are introduced into the body. One of the challenges that modern courts face is the introduction of so-called “designer” drugs, which are chemical compounds that do not appear among the definitions of illegal drugs under federal law but which purportedly mimic the mental and physical effects of those drugs. State and federal governments alike have been involved in an ongoing series of legal battles to address the spread of such novel drugs, which may be at least technically legal when they are introduced.
At issue in a recent case, McFadden v. United States, that was argued recently before the U.S. Supreme Court involving “bath salts” – a drug that if taken like cocaine is supposed to mimic its effects – was how a federal law (the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act, or “CSAE”) – should be interpreted.
The CSAE, which is itself part of the broader Controlled Substances Act, makes it illegal to sell substances that are substantially similar to illegal drugs in their chemical structure or their effects. Specifically, the case at hand deals with varying interpretations of the law’s requirement that a person accused of violating it should “know” that the analogue substance is to be used as an illegal drug substitute.
Although the CSAE has been in existence since 1986, the definition of its “mens rea” requirement above has eluded a uniform definition in the federal appeals courts that have considered it. Some, such as the Fourth and Fifth Circuit Courts of Appeal, have interpreted the law to require that the defendant must know that the analogue drug is intended for human consumption, but others (including the Second, Seventh and Eighth Circuits) have required more, specifically that the government prove that the defendant knew that the substance was in fact a controlled substance analogue.
The arguments before the Court also included an assertion that the knowledge element of the crime go so far as to force the government to prove that the defendant should be aware of the chemical composition of the analogue drug in question, to which the counterargument is that under such a stringent requirement only the chemists who manufacture such drugs would be subject to prosecution.
It is only possible to speculate at this point how the Court will decide to finally interpret the knowledge requirement of the CSAE, although it is possible that the court will find somewhere between the loose standard of simply knowing that the drug was meant to be used by people and the nearly impossible standard argued by the defense that the accused must have a chemical knowledge of the substitute drug. “Mens rea” cases can be problematic to resolve in many criminal law situations, because of the need to balance the necessary element of intent on the part of the defendant against the more subjective consideration of what in fact the defendant actually knew, or perhaps should have known.
If you or a love one has been charged with a crime in Oklahoma, contact the Oklahoma Criminal Defense Attorneys at the Hunsucker Legal Group at 405-231-5600 for your free consultation.