United States v. Moore

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United States v. Moore
District of Columbia Court of Appeals Seal.svg
Court United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Full case nameUnited States of America v. Raymond Moore
Argued September 10, 1971
Decided May 14, 1973
Citation(s) 486 F.2d 1139
Case history
Subsequent action(s) Certiorari denied, 94 S. Ct. 298 (1973).
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting David L. Bazelon, J. Skelly Wright, Carl E. McGowan, Edward Allen Tamm, Harold Leventhal, Spottswood William Robinson III, George MacKinnon, Roger Robb, Malcolm Richard Wilkey (en banc)
Case opinions
Per curiam.
Concurrence Wilkey, joined by MacKinnon, Robb
Concurrence Leventhal, joined by McGowan
Concurrence MacKinnon
Concurrence Robb
Dissent Wright, joined by Bazelon, Tamm, Robinson

United States v. Moore, 486 F.2d 1139 (D.C. Cir. 1973), [1] was a case decided by the D.C. Circuit that refused to recognize a common law affirmative defense of addiction in a criminal prosecution for the possession of heroin. [2]

Common law law developed by judges

In law, common law is that body of law derived from judicial decisions of courts and similar tribunals. The defining characteristic of “common law” is that it arises as precedent. In cases where the parties disagree on what the law is, a common law court looks to past precedential decisions of relevant courts, and synthesizes the principles of those past cases as applicable to the current facts. If a similar dispute has been resolved in the past, the court is usually bound to follow the reasoning used in the prior decision. If, however, the court finds that the current dispute is fundamentally distinct from all previous cases, and legislative statutes are either silent or ambiguous on the question, judges have the authority and duty to resolve the issue. The court states an opinion that gives reasons for the decision, and those reasons agglomerate with past decisions as precedent to bind future judges and litigants. Common law, as the body of law made by judges, stands in contrast to and on equal footing with statutes which are adopted through the legislative process, and regulations which are promulgated by the executive branch. Stare decisis, the principle that cases should be decided according to consistent principled rules so that similar facts will yield similar results, lies at the heart of all common law systems.

An affirmative defense to a civil lawsuit or criminal charge is a fact or set of facts other than those alleged by the plaintiff or prosecutor which, if proven by the defendant, defeats or mitigates the legal consequences of the defendant's otherwise unlawful conduct. In civil lawsuits, affirmative defenses include the statute of limitations, the statute of frauds, waiver, and other affirmative defenses such as, in the United States, those listed in Rule 8 (c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In criminal prosecutions, examples of affirmative defenses are self defense, insanity, and the statute of limitations.

Heroin chemical compound

Heroin, also known as diamorphine among other names, is an opioid most commonly used as a recreational drug for its euphoric effects. Medically it is used in several countries to relieve pain or in opioid replacement therapy. Heroin is typically injected, usually into a vein; however, it can also be smoked, snorted or inhaled. The onset of effects is usually rapid and lasts for a few hours.


The defendant Moore was charged with the possession of heroin, and in his defense sought to introduce psychiatric testimony that because of his heroin addiction he lacked substantial capacity to conform his behavior to the standards of the criminal law. The court refused to recognize Moore's proposed common law defense of addiction because of difficulties in administration and inconsistency with the Model Penal Code. [3]

Substance dependence, also known as drug dependence, is an adaptive state that develops from repeated drug administration, and which results in withdrawal upon cessation of drug use. A drug addiction, a distinct concept from substance dependence, is defined as compulsive, out-of-control drug use, despite negative consequences. An addictive drug is a drug which is both rewarding and reinforcing. ΔFosB, a gene transcription factor, is now known to be a critical component and common factor in the development of virtually all forms of behavioral addiction and drug addictions, but not dependence.

The Model Penal Code (MPC) is a text designed to stimulate and assist U.S. state legislatures to update and standardize the penal law of the United States of America. The MPC was a project of the American Law Institute (ALI), and was published in 1962 after a ten-year drafting period. The chief reporter on the project was Herbert Wechsler, and contributors included Sanford Kadish and numerous other noted criminal law scholars, prosecutors, and defense lawyers.

A dissenting opinion by Judge J. Skelly Wright advocated for the recognition of the common law defense. [4]

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  1. United States v. Moore, 486F.2d1139 ( D.C. Cir. 1973).
  2. Bonnie, R.J. et al. Criminal Law, Second Edition. Foundation Press, New York: 2004, p. 587
  3. Bonnie, p. 590
  4. Bonnie, p. 587