Monday, December 28, 2015

U.S. v. Navarrette-Aguilar (9th Cir. - Dec. 27, 2015)

There are many ways that cause me to recognize that I'm getting old.  So many, many ways.

For example, in my first-year civil procedure textbook, there's a district court opinion on summary judgment in the civil lawsuit that arose out of the death of Len Bias.  The question in that case was whether there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Mr. Bias used cocaine at a particular point in time.  It's not one of the leading opinions on summary judgment (obviously), but it's nonetheless used as a concrete example of how district courts are supposed to evaluate evidentiary conflicts in determining whether there's a genuine issue of material fact for trial.

For people my age, it's a high-profile case.  Or at least was a high-profile death.  They've heard of Lenny Bias.  But every year, I have to explain to my students who Len Bias was.  The overwhelming majority of them have absolutely no idea.

I currently try to explain that Len Bias was sort of like the Lebron James of his era -- someone incredibly good who came out of school and then promptly, and tragically, died.

Soon enough, I'm sure even that analogy won't work.  I'll have to explain who Lebron James was.

Anyway, today's Ninth Circuit opinion reminded me of Len Bias because the opinion revolves entirely around the "Len Bias law" -- a federal statute that provides that the distribution of a schedule I or II narcotic resulting in a death or serious injury carries a twenty-year mandatory minimum sentence and a mandatory life sentence for those with a prior felony drug conviction.  It's not a statute that I knew anything about prior to today.  It's also yet another example of how mandatory minimums can be used in charging decisions by the relevant authorities to leverage heavy penalties (and/or plea deals).  I imagine that virtually everyone who, say, slings heroin (in any reasonable volume, anyway) is responsible for at least one eventual death down the supply chain.  It's just a matter of following the trail and identifying a particular person.  Then, boom, it's a lifetime in prison.  Your fortune depends on whether there's a prosecutor somewhere who feels like doing the work.

Anyway, Len Bias.  A blast from the past.