United States v. Hamm, No. 17-6383 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Hamm, addicted to opioids, drove from Mt. Sterling, Kentucky to Cincinnati daily, to buy fentanyl. In Mt. Sterling, he and his wife used some of the drugs and gave the rest to their roommate, Myers, a drug dealer. Myers diluted, divided, and sold her share. Hamm found a new Cincinnati supplier: Shields. A few hours after Hamm returned from visiting Shields and giving Myers her share, Myers sold three packets of opioids. The customer died that night from an overdose. Police traced the drugs to Myers and arrested her and Hamm. After her arrest, Myers smuggled her remaining drugs into the jail and gave them to her cellmates, who lost consciousness but survived. Myers died by suicide a week later.
A jury convicted Hamm and Shields of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and two counts of distributing carfentanil, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), 846. On the latter two counts, the jury applied a statutory sentencing enhancement for distribution resulting in death or serious bodily injury, 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(C), triggering a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years for Hamm and a mandatory life sentence for Shields (who had a prior felony drug conviction). The Sixth Circuit affirmed the convictions, rejecting challenges to a remark in the prosecutor’s closing argument and to the sufficiency of the evidence. The court vacated the sentences. The jury instructions on section 841(b)(1)(C)’s sentencing enhancement misstated the law.