They Shared Drugs. Someone Died. Does That Make Them a Killer?

Although it is difficult to assign blame for a drug overdose death to any one person, prosecutors are increasingly treating such deaths as homicides and looking to hold enablers criminally accountable. These “enablers” often turn out to be friends, partners, or siblings who either provide the overdose-causing drugs or helps the victim obtain them. Even if the death is not intentionally caused, enabling an overdose can result in criminal liability for the enabler in some states.

Washington DC Definition of Drug Distribution

The District of Columbia defines drug distribution as the transfer or the attempt to transfer to another person a controlled substance. The government need not prove that the defendant received or expected to receive anything of value in return. This definition covers behavior that is common for even casual users; merely sharing or giving drugs away to friend, family member, or acquaintance can result in criminal liability for distribution.

In order to convict an enabler on an involuntary manslaughter charge in the District of Columbia, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant caused the death of the victim; that the death-causing conduct was a gross deviation from a reasonable standard of care; and that the conduct in question created an extreme risk of death or serious bodily injury. Even if the defendant did not aim to cause death or bodily injury to the victim, he or she can still be convicted. Click here for more information on DC drug charges.

Is DC Next to Make Drug Delivery Resulting in Death a Law?

Although the District of Columbia has not yet enacted any specific “drug delivery resulting in death laws,” drug-induced homicide prosecutions are becoming more common across the United States. Twenty (20) states have enacted drug-induced homicide laws enabling the government to punish anyone who administers or provides drugs that cause an overdose death. Additionally, thirteen (13) states introduced bills last year to create new drug-induced homicide offenses or strengthen existing laws. Although these laws are targeted at drug traffickers, in practice, they result in low-level users (who may happen to be a grieving family member or friend of the victim) getting locked up. Moreover, there is no evidence suggesting that such laws have reduced the number of the overdose deaths in the states where they have been enacted. Additionally, a study carried out by Pew Charitable Trust found that incarceration is one of the least effective methods for reducing drug use and crime.

Not only is there lack of evidence to suggest that drug-induced homicide prosecutions are an effective remedy to drug trafficking and drug use, but there is evidence that such prosecutions have resulted in more overdose deaths. Drug-induced homicide prosecutions have disincentivized contacting the authorities when an overdose is taking place in counties where such prosecutions are common because people fear they will be held accountable for the overdose. Despite how seemingly counterproductive these laws are they are gaining popularity across the country. Those who use drugs should be mindful of these laws and think twice before they share or administer drugs to friends and family.

Never Go Undefended, Call an Attorney

More importantly, those who are questioned by authorities or subpoenaed before a grand jury regarding a case of drug over dose death should contact an experienced attorney prior to speaking with government authorities. The penalties for drug distribution and homicide are steep and not worth taking a gamble for anyone. Contact Bruckheim & Patel  for a confidential consultation.

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