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Murder Charges for Drug-Dealing? In Some US States the Answer is a Thundering--Yes

  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    In several states, people are going to prison — for life — for murder. Only they never shot or stabbed someone, and they never intended to kill anyone. Instead, this group of people is being charged for murder for merely supplying a drug.

    Rob Kuznia reports for the Washington Post:

    With deaths from heroin and opioids at their highest level in U.S. history, prosecutors have begun charging those who supplied the final dose with murder, even when that person is the deceased's friend, lover, sibling or spouse.

    The new initiative is sometimes in direct conflict with good Samaritan laws, which protect addicts from being charged if they call 911 when a fellow user is overdosing. The tougher approach also is in marked contrast to a growing movement that seeks to treat drug addiction as a disease and public-health crisis rather than criminal behavior.

    Prosecutors in New Jersey, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Louisiana have recently dusted off dormant War on Drugs-era laws to subject sellers and providers to homicide charges and stiff sentences on par with convictions for shooting, beating or poisoning people to death. In New York, Ohio, and Virginia, lawmakers have introduced bills to allow murder charges to be filed in drug-overdose deaths.​

    The response to the opioid painkiller and heroin epidemic has largely focused on dealing with the crisis as an issue of public health, not criminal justice. The Obama administration, for one, has proposed big increases to funding and access to treatment programs for people suffering from drug use disorders. But as the Post's story reveals, not everyone is on board. So they are pulling up old laws — and in some cases calling for new ones — to go after drug users and their friends or family through much more punitive means.

    The Post goes through the grisly story of Jarret McCasland. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to prison for life after his fiancée overdosed and died of heroin, because he administered the fatal dose of the drug. So McCasland lost his fiancée, and then he was punished for it — even though he had no demonstrable intent to kill her. On one hand, this just seems incredibly unfair. But it's also counterproductive — if the goal is to stop the opioid crisis.

    "Tough-on-crime" laws don't work

    Going after drug users and dealers with incredibly harsh punishments, as these prosecutors are doing, mimics the same approach that has failed to decrease drug trafficking and use for years. Over the past few decades, federal and state governments responded to drug crises by dramatically increasing their punishments for drugs. The idea: If they could go after the supply of drugs, they could raise prices — making the substances less affordable — and deter use. But by several metrics, it didn't work out that way.

    Since the 1980s, the price of heroin has plummeted. In 1981, the median price of a gram of pure heroin, based on sales of more than 10 grams, was $2,203.31, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. In 2007, the year with the latest data available, it was $146.56.

    Drug use, meanwhile, actually increased during the 2000s — despite laws passed in the '80s and '90s to crack down on drugs. And drug overdose deaths hit an all-time high in 2014. (To some degree, the mere existence of the current heroin epidemic marks the failure of drug war policies.) Meanwhile, research shows that punitive drug policies don't stop drug trafficking. A 2014 study from Peter Reuter at the University of Maryland and Harold Pollack at the University of Chicago found there's no good evidence that tougher punishments or harsher supply elimination efforts do a better job of pushing down access to drugs and substance abuse than lighter penalties. So increasing the severity of the punishment doesn't do much, if anything, to slow the flow of drugs.

    That doesn't mean prohibition is completely ineffective. It likely prevents some use: A 2014 study by Jon Caulkins, a drug policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University, suggested that prohibition multiplies the price of hard drugs like cocaine by as much as 10 times. And illicit drugs obviously aren't available through easy means — one can't just walk into a CVS and buy heroin. So the drug war is likely stopping some drug use: Caulkins estimates that legalization could lead hard drug abuse to vastly increase, by triple or more.

    But it is possible to ban drugs without imposing ridiculous punishments, including life-long prison sentences, for their use and sale. And given the past few decades, in which drug use has not subsided despite increasingly punitive policies, many policymakers say it's time for a new approach.

    Excessive criminalization can hurt public health actions

    Given the lack of progress in bringing down drug use over the past few decades, many policymakers have called for reform to America's anti-drug policies. Even Michael Botticelli, the leader of the federal office in charge of the drug war (the Office of National Drug Control Policy), famously said, "We can't arrest and incarcerate addiction out of people. … Not only do I think it's really inhumane, but it's ineffective and it costs us billions upon billions of dollars to keep doing this." That's why his office has proposed dramatically increasing spending on drug treatment programs. But on top of being counterproductive, excessive criminalization can make drug abuse worse.

    In some cases, people overdose when they are near friends or family. But these peers may be scared of calling the police or paramedics if they think, for example, that it could land them in prison for life because they were also using or supplied the drugs. And then the person overdosing will likely die without ever getting medical care, such as the lifesaving opioid overdose antidote naloxone.

    By German Lopez - Vox/May 10, 2016
    Newshawk Crew

    Author Bio

    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.


  1. Terpene
    My argument against charging drug illegal drug dealers with murder is simply this: it isn't murder. It never has been. This is a knee jerk reaction to a problem that won't solve anything, and it's unjust. How do we charge someone with murder, when the murder never happened? It's not murder when someone willingly takes a drug. It's not murder when there was never intent to kill. Intent can't be proven, and without intent, it's not murder.

    It's against a dealer's best interest to kill his customer. Also, how is it even possible to prove that the ingested substance was the same substance that the dealer gave him? That is irrelevant though. The customer wanted to get high. He is well aware of the dangers of his actions.

    Changing the definition of murder, which is exactly what they're doing, can have dire consequences. What's next? Two kids get drunk, one causes an accident, his buddy dies. Charge him with murder?

    Uncle Tony makes some wine in his basement. His drunk buddy tries driving home, but crashes and dies. Charge Tony with murder?

    They're charging people with murder because it's another way to fill cells in the privately owned prisons.

    I guess it's okay to kill someone with legal drugs. After all, when someone dies of alcohol poisoning, we don't charge Anheiser Bucsh with murder. We don't charge the retail store owner with murder. We don't charge the distribution company with murder.

    What about all the opioid overdoses? We're not charging the pharmaceutical companies with murder, or the doctors, or the drug store.

    I guess "murder" with legal drugs is okay.

    Again... it's not murder. Murder is when someone intentionally shoots someone. Murder is when someone beats someone to death with a baseball bat, or stabs someone to death. It is not murder when someone sells someone a drug, and the user dies while eagerly and willingly consuming the drug.

    If anything, we should be charging the prohibitionists with murder. Prohibition keeps someone from calling 911. This newfound definition of murder keeps someone from calling 911 and possibly saving a life. Prohibition CAUSES the sale of unregulated and contaminated drugs. Prohibition is the very reason there are unlicensed drug dealers. Prohibition is the cause of HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of deaths in Mexico. The cartels exist because they make vast sums of money selling illegal drugs. If the drugs weren't illegal, they couldn't sell them.

    This is nothing more than a weak attempt to do something about a problem which will have NO positive impact. It will in fact make the situation worse. They're doing it to show the masses that they're doing something, and it will only increase the body count. Instead of actually thinking outside the box and decriminalizing it's use or legalizing it, they choose to continue to invent new tactics that are destined to fail, and kill more people.
      Docta likes this.
  2. Terpene
    Good read here by the way. I'm very happy to have recently discovered this site.
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