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Decided: March 7, 2016

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court.

Alvarado was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and a 3-year term of supervised released for heroine distribution resulting in death in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C). On March 30, 2011, Eric Thomas died from an overdose. A drug screen of Thomas’s blood and urine revealed high levels of metabolized heroine, as well as a therapeutic level of Xanax. The police identified Alvarado as Thomas’s heroine supplier using text messages from Thomas’s phone. In response to police questioning, Alvarado admitted to selling heroine to Thomas the day before Thomas died.

Alvarado contends the district court erred when it failed to clarify to the jury the results-in-death element was not satisfied if heroine was only a contributing cause of Thomas’s death and that Alvarado had to have “reasonably foreseen” that death court result. Alvarado also argued that the lower court erred when it admitted hearsay testimony that Thomas said he purchased heroine from Alvarado.

The Court rejected all of Alvarado’s arguments. First, the Court found that because there was no evidence in the record that Thomas could have died without the heroine, the jury’s verdict was consistent with the but-for causation requirement. As such, the district court’s failure to clarify the standard did not amount to an abuse of discretion. Next, the court concluded that the district court did not have to instruct the jury about the foreseeability of death based on the decision in United States v. Patterson, 38 F.3d 139 (4th Cir. 1994). Finally, the Court held that the district court did not commit reversible error in admitting the hearsay testimony because its admission was harmless if it wasn’t admissible and the testimony did not violate Alvarado’s Sixth Amendment rights because the hearsay was not testimonial.

Accordingly, the Court affirmed Alvarado’s conviction and sentence.

Full Opinion

Megan Clemency