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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Abuelhawa v. United States: Drug Telephone Counts Punish Sales Not Purchases

Whether the use of a telephone to buy drugs for personal use "facilitates" the commission of a drug "felony," in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b), on the theory that the crime facilitated by the buyer is not his purchase of drugs for personal use (a misdemeanor), but is the seller’s distribution of the drugs to him (a felony). The Court answered in the negative, holding that using a telephone to make a misdemeanor drug purchase does not "facilitat[e]" felony drug distribution in violation of §843(b). Stopping with the plain meaning of "facilitate" here would ignore the rule that because statutes are not read as a collection of isolated phrases, "[a] word in a statute may or may not extend to the outer limits of its definitional possibilities." Dolan v. Postal Service, 546 U. S. 481. Here it does not.