Case: Abuelhawa v. United States

Date: Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Issue: Whether the use of a telephone to buy drugs for personal use is felony in violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Background: Salman Khade Abuelhawa admitted to the FBI he was a cocaine user. During its investigation of another man, agents recorded a pair of phone conversations in which Abuelhawa made arrangements to purchase a gram of cocaine. Even though federal laws make personal drug use a misdemeanor, prosecutors charged Abuelhawa with a felony because of the phone conversation with the dealer. The government successfully argued that Abuelhawa's phone conversations facilitated the drug deal. He was sentenced to two years probation and fined $2,000. Abuelhawa's lawyers argue the government's decision to charge their client with the felony undermines the Congressional intent of the CSA.

Case: Dean v. United States

Date: Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Issue: Federal law allows for convicted felons to serve an additional ten years behind bars if they fire a gun during the commission of a crime. Can that law still apply if there was no intent to fire the weapon?

Background: In 2004, Christopher Dean robbed $3,642 from a Georgia bank. While inside the bank the gun he was holding accidentally discharged. No one was hurt and witnesses say Dean was shocked when the gun went off—clearly demonstrating he lacked the intent to fire the weapon. Police officers soon arrested Dean and he was convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 8 1/3 years behind bars. But he was also given an additional 10 year term in prison for firing the gun during the bank robbery. Dean unsuccessfully appealed the extra decade sentence saying the gun shot was an accident. Lower courts ruled that because Congress did not require intent as an element of the crime they are bound to follow the law requiring the additional prison time.