Chapman v. United States

PETITIONER: Chapman
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Clark County Jail

DOCKET NO.: 90-5744
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 500 US 453 (1991)
ARGUED: Mar 26, 1991
DECIDED: May 30, 1991

ADVOCATES:
Paul J. Larkin, Jr. - on behalf of the Respondent
T. Christopher Kelly - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Chapman v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 26, 1991 in Chapman v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 30, 1991 in Chapman v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

The second case I have to announce is Chapman versus the United States.

The petitioners in this case were convicted of selling 10 sheets of blotter paper impregnated with 1,000 doses of LSD.

Although the pure LSD contained in the paper weighed only about 50 milligrams because the combined weight of the LSD and the blotter paper was 5.7 grams, the District Court sentenced petitioners to the five-year mandatory minimum sentence required by a federal law for distributing more than one gram of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of LSD.

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld this and we granted certiorari because there was a split between the Courts of Appeals.

In a decision filed with the clerk today, we affirm the decision of the Seventh Circuit.

The statute requires the weight of the carrier medium to be included when determining the appropriate sentence for trafficking in LSD.

The statute refers to a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount and therefore, we hold the entire mixture or substance is to be weighed when calculating the sentence rather than the amount of the pure drug contained in the mixture.

And we hold that the statute is so construed as constitutional.

Congress intended to punish large volume traffickers at any level, and the statute increases the penalty for such persons by measuring the street weight of the drugs in the diluted form in which they are sold.

It was rational for Congress to set penalties including the weight of the blotter paper which is the chosen tool of the trade for those who traffic in LSD.

Congress was also justified in seeking to avoid arguments about the accurate weight of pure drugs that might have been extracted from the paper.

Since blotter paper seems to be the carrier of choice for LSD distributors, the sentencing scheme will do exactly what it was supposed to do in the vast majority of cases.

They will punish more heavily those who deal in larger amounts of drugs.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Marshall has joined.