Can a drug trafficker whose supply causes a heroin death be charged with murder? As legislators across the country look at beefing up laws related to deadly drugs, it’s a pertinent question.
In a recent case in Minnesota, a 24-year-old man who supplied a heroin user with a lethal quantity of the drug was charged with third-degree murder. However, he ended up pleading guilty to an amended charge of second-degree manslaughter.
Tactics in which prosecutors warn drug suppliers they could face murder charges have been used across the country including in Texas. However, they are often difficult to sustain.
Recently, a USA Today report stated more states are pushing drug-induced homicide laws in heroin cases.
The report noted drug suppliers were being charged with murder and other homicide offenses more often in states like Wisconsin.
Prosecutors in Wisconsin charged 71 people with first-degree reckless homicide by drug delivery in 2013, an increase from 47 in 2012.
The state has seen a spike in heroin deaths. David Lasee, a district attorney in Brown County, where overdose deaths soared from 93 in 2010 to 227 in 2013, said it was important to send out a tough message.
Drug trafficking offenses are often dealt with in the federal courts. Prosecutors routinely seek a higher sentence if the drugs have been linked to death.
However, limits were placed on this power in the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case of Burrage v. United States. The justices ruled the drug must be an “independently sufficient cause of the victim’s death or serious bodily injury.”
It was not clear that the heroin supply led directly to death, the court heard.
Federal Prosecutors impose Longer Sentences for Supplying Deadly Drugs
When drug supply is linked to a fatality, the supplier of deadly drugs can face a very lengthy prison term in the federal courts.
In 2015, a group of defendants appeared in federal court in Dallas over the 2014 heroin overdose death of Rian Hannah Lashley, a girl in the city.
A press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office Northern District of Texas stated each of the defendants faced a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in a federal prison and a $1 million fine.
Last year, federal charges were brought against Sylvester Orlowski and Albert Picazo III, who are accused of knowingly and unlawfully possessing with intent to distribute an illegal controlled substance. They are accused of supplying fentanyl to two users who ended up overdosing and dying as a result of taking the drug.
Fentanyl is a powerful opioid drug. As more drug deaths are recorded in America cities, an increased crackdown on dealers with elevated sentences is expected, according to many experts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that opioids, namely heroin and prescription painkillers, obtained legally and illegally – killed more than 28,000 people in 2014.
If you supply a drug that is linked to death, you will likely be facing a lengthy sentence in a federal court, whether or not it is charged as a homicide. Make sure to contact our Austin drug defense lawyers as soon as possible to fight the charges.