People may wonder, can drug dealers be charged with murder after a heroin overdose? According to current precedent, drug dealers can be held liable if someone overdoses and dies because of drugs the dealer sold them. There have been several convictions in the United States holding drug dealers responsible for murder when a heroin user overdoses on drugs allegedly purchased from the dealer.
This new type of charge can end up costing a drug dealer a 20-year sentence in prison, or more. Sentences are different in each state. However, a skilled drug defense attorney can help individuals who face homicide charges due to an overdose. If you have been charged with an overdose-related homicide, speak to a lawyer.
Nationwide Increase in Heroin Usage
The number of heroin overdoses is on the rise. There were three overdose deaths in Forsyth County, Georgia involving heroin in 2016, and two of those involved fentanyl. There are 150 cases that are still pending before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation from 2016 alone.
According to the research conducted by the Substance Abuse Research Alliance, the number of opioid overdoses since 2001, including overdoses by heroin, has exploded by almost 4,000 percent as of 2015. There were three overdoses reported in 2001. By 2015, there were 1,221 overdose deaths.
Prosecuting Heroin Dealers
In some states, legislatures have adopted new regulations that make it easier to prosecute drug dealers. Several states have convicted drug dealers for murder following an overdose death.
Many legal experts argue that the drug laws being adopted by numerous states are not fair, and likely unconstitutional. The National Criminal Justice Service argued that when a drug dealer commits a felony by supplying drugs, that conduct does not cause a user to die from an overdose.
The Service further asserted that courts that stipulate that felony murder occurs in drug prosecutions violate the constitutional guarantee of due process.
Many defense attorneys take the position that drug dealers have no intent to kill anyone. They further state that prosecuting defendants for murder is unjust because it is the drug user that is the person electing to ingest the drugs. The defense lawyer may also assert that strict liability is a civil matter and not a criminal law.
Moreover, it is difficult to know what drug caused the death of the drug user. Quite often when someone overdoses, there are multiple drugs found in their system, and it cannot be determined what drug actually caused the death.
Differences Between Prosecutors and Defendants
If you were to ask a prosecutor, “can drug dealers be charged with murder after a heroin overdose?” they would probably say yes. They believe that when someone sells drugs to another, and that person overdoses, it is akin to driving while intoxicated and then killing someone.
Defense attorneys, of course, differ, in their view. They argue that it is up to the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the drugs ingested were the drugs that were sold by the defendant and that the defendant drug dealer intended for the victim to die.
Around the country, people are starting to see more legislation around this complex issue, and similarly, people are starting to see a handful of convictions being handed down in several states. These cases and others could ultimately be appealed to the United States Supreme Court. If you want to know more about overdose-related homicide charges against drug dealers, get in touch with a skilled drug lawyer today.