Brittany’s story: 2015, Brittany gave her friend legally prescribed methadone pills in Wisconsin. Her friend overdosed and died. Brittany was then charged with murder. Brittany was not present when her friend overdosed on the drugs, and also advised her friend to take the drug with caution.
In 2020, the number of drug overdose deaths increased substantially. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths increased 30% in 2020. A significant reason for this may include depression and the lack of communication while in quarantine during COVID 19. The number of drug overdoses in 2020 was around 93,000. The use of meth further increased substantially in 2020. The covid-19 health crisis created a disturbing amount of drug overdose deaths. Unfortunately, some of us may find ourselves in a situation where we know a loved one has passed away due to a drug overdose, leading many to wonder if they could be found guilty of murder for preventing that drug overdose death.
Because of the increase in drug overdose deaths this last year, there is a lot of pressure on prosecutors to go after overdose deaths and charge defendants with homicide. Prosecutions for drug overdose are more common in the Northeast region of the country. This type of prosecution is referred to as a drug-induced homicide. Many defendants could be charged with drug induced homicide, such as drug dealers, friends who also took the drugs, and family members. Since the data for prosecuting these types of crimes are fairly new, there are no studies of reports done that directly show that prosecuting this type of homicide leads to a decreased amount of overdose deaths.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are specific category of drugs, many of which are illegal. This includes heroin, oxycodone, and Vicodin. When opioids are taken, they intercept the nerve cells and “numb the pain” putting the patient in a type of euphoria. Although these drugs could sometimes be prescribed for major surgeries, many may choose to continue to take it despite the absence of pain. Although these drugs are very strong and provide quick pain relief, they are also very addictive. When these types of drugs are misused, it can lead to addiction.
The most common type of drug-induced homicide charges are two drug dealers who sell counterfeit drugs. For example, these drugs are designed to look like specific illegal drugs however are made up of different chemicals. These chemicals could be much stronger and the person taking the drugs would not know the strength, later passing away from overdose. One of the most common type of drug overdose deaths include Fentanyl toxicity.
Drug-induced Homicide Organizations
There’s currently a push by many nonprofit organizations to create drug-induced homicide laws so prosecutors could have a basis for charging defendants. Examples of organizations include The Drug-induced Homicide Organization and Health in Justice.
There is also a push from the other side who do not want drug-induced homicide laws passed. Many argue that this instead holds family and friends guilty rather than larger drug manufacturers and drug dealers. Further, this has more of a stronger effect on minority groups. They also assert that there has not been a correlation with drug-induced homicides and a decrease in overdoses. For example, Wisconsin has a high number of drug overdoses per year. They have enacted drug-induced homicide laws since 2011, and these drug overdose deaths are still on the rise consistently.
Drug-induced Homicide Laws
Only about 20 States have drug-induced homicide laws. These laws charge members of the community under various crimes, which include, depraved-heart murder, voluntary manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter. However, some of these laws have recently come under fire for enforcing very harsh penalties that have no correlation to drug selling. For example, family members are held guilty of murder for just being in the house when their family member overdosed. Family members who witness a drug overdose are especially scared of calling 911 for fear of being held guilty of illegal drug possession.
Currently, California and Nevada don’t have drug-induced homicide laws passed. However, in February 12th 2021, s bill was introduced named Alexandra’s law that pushed for murder charges for anyone who causes a drug poisoning death. This bill was named after Alexandra Capuelouto, who passed away in 2019 from Fentanyl poisoning after she purchased a drug believing it to be oxycodone from a dealer. Now the parents are pushing for the dealer to be charged with murder.
California has a no duty to aid law, which means that one could not be held guilty for failing to assist someone who has overdosed on drugs. This was an acted in accordance with the overdose prevention law, which gave protections to those who are arrested from overdose. For example, people who call 911 reporting a drug overdose could not be held liable and convicted for possession of illegal drugs.
Fentanyl was the cause of more than half of drug deaths in Los Angeles in 2020. Younger teens and adults are more likely to use this drug. A large portion of the fentanyl in California comes from drug cartels in Mexico. Many also social media to advertise the sale of these drugs. For example, a common social media site that is used for the sale of drugs is Craigslist. Recently, a drug dealer was caught using SnapChat to reach out to those who wanted to purchase drugs. Prosecutors in Riverside County in California have already started to file drug charges against drug dealers.
Can Drug Dealers Be Held Guilty of Murder?
Yes. Oftentimes, the courts find those who distribute and sell illegal drugs guilty of murder when their customers ingest and then subsequently overdose on the drug. For example, on July 15, 2021, two drug dealers in Florida were faced with murder charges after a woman died from an overdose. The 22-year-old woman was found dead in a hotel room. After an investigation by the Orlando Police Department, they found the two drug dealers that sold her this unlawful drug. They are currently charged with murder. The woman had passed away due to a drug overdose on Fentanyl. Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, can be very addictive and is considered to be about a hundred times stronger than morphine. Usually, Fentanyl is used to treat cancer patients.
If you have been charged with murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation.
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***Disclaimer: This page is created by Heidari Law Group for educational purposes. This article provides a general understanding of the law. It does not provide specific advice. By using this site and reading through this page, there is no attorney-client relationship created between you and any member of Heidari Law. Further, due to the constant change of the law, some parts of the information above may no longer be good law.