Will Drug Dealers Face Criminal Charges for Overdoses?

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I recently lost a dear friend and the circumstances of his death lead everyone to believe that he died because of a controlled dangerous substance overdose. The numbers don’t look good for curbing the overdose deaths. According to the CDC, there were more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2016, the problem seems to be getting worse.

This begs the questions: Will Drug Dealers Face Criminal Charges for Overdoses? What that means is, someone sold or gave an addict drugs that ultimately led to their death. In the days after his death, I’ve been asking a lot of questions to myself about how this can happen.

As a criminal defense lawyer it made me wonder and debate if the individual that sold or gave my friend the drugs would face criminal charges for his overdose?

While this is not a common scenario where one individual is charged for someone else’s death because they consumed an illegal drug that was sold to them. It is not unusual, as recently seen in Anne Arundel County, Maryland as well as Montgomery County, Md.

So I set out to start this debate with myself and with you to figure out if drug dealers should and will face criminal charges for the overdoses they cause.

How Drug Dealers Work

Here’s how this typically works:

  • The drug dealer has drugs.
  • The user needs drugs or wants drugs and contacts a drug dealer to supply those drugs to the user.
  • The drug dealer then gives or sells the drugs to the user.
  • The user then takes the drugs and subsequently dies from an overdose.

Fentanyl and It’s Dangers

There has been a lot of new stories recently about the drug Fentanyl and it’s infusion into various drugs such as cocaine or heroin.

Fentanyl is used as an additive that many drug dealers or illegal drug manufacturers are combining with the common street drugs to increase the “high” for the user.

Now, I am no way an expert on the molecular breakdown of drugs and controlled dangerous substances. But my understanding, from talking to recovery specialists and police officers is the Fentanyl and other additives increase the “high” for the user.

Why Use Fentanyl

I’ve always been told that the first time an individual uses an illegal drug, it’s the best “high” they will ever have. Therefore, every time they take drugs after the first time is there an attempt to feel the same way they felt the first time.

The drug dealers and illegal drug manufacturers or trying to increase the subsequent highs that drug users have and therefore boost their profits and the demand for their product.

The problem with this scenario is, the additive such as Fentanyl are so dangerous, even in small amounts that they kill by increasing heart rates and causing heart attacks.

Some experts suggest that fentanyl, the size of a grain of salt, can kill someone who has not built up a tolerance to the substance.

No Chemistry Sets Used by Drug Dealers

The drug dealers and illegal drug manufacturers are not using exact science when they add Fentanyl to the cocaine or heroin. Therefore, if they sell 20 different bags of drugs, 19 of the bags may have no fentanyl in it and the one remaining bag may have an excessive amount of Fentanyl.

Where does that leave us in terms of drug dealers facing criminal charges? Well, as I previously mentioned, there are two jurisdictions at this time in Maryland, that we know, have charged drug dealers with the death of a user.
In the an Arundel County criminal case, the drug dealer was charged with various controlled dangerous substance distribution charges, which is not unusual. But, in addition, the drug dealer was charged with reckless endangerment.

Reckless Endangerment Charges for Drug Dealer

Reckless endangerment prohibits a person from acting recklessly in conduct that creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another person.
If an individual is convicted of reckless endangerment, they’re facing a misdemeanor conviction and could face up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The question that will come to the jury will be, can a drug dealer be held responsible for selling drugs that are laced with a harmful substance that ultimately led to the death of another person?
A prosecutor must prove three things:
  1. that the drug dealer engaged in a conduct that created a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another person,
  2. that a reasonable person would not have engaged in that conduct, you certainly believe that reasonable people would not be drug dealers, and
  3. that the drug dealer acted recklessly.
I certainly think that most prosecutors would be able to prove that it was the drug dealer’s active conduct that created a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another.
As shown by recent news articles and stories and overdose deaths, and I’m sure common knowledge within the drug dealing community, people that use drugs often overdose and die.
There’s no doubt that a reasonable person would not engage in drug dealing. Yet the final condition (that the drug dealer acted recklessly) will be somewhat of a question for a jury to decide.
I have no doubt but the drug dealer will argue that he had no idea that the drugs were laced or contained fentanyl or another dangerous substance. Or the drug dealer May argue that he is sold the substance before and never had a user overdose.

Involuntary Manslaughter Charges for Drug Dealer in Overdose Death

In the Montgomery County, Maryland case, the State’s Attorney decided to charge the drug dealer with involuntary manslaughter.
Involuntary manslaughter is classified as a felony in Maryland and if an individual is convicted they could face up to 10 years in jail for their crime.
For involuntary manslaughter charges in Maryland the state would have to prove a number of factors:
  1. that the conduct of the drug dealer cause the death of the drug user and
  2. that the drug dealer, conscious of the risk to the user, knowingly and recklessly disregarded the likelihood that the drug dealers actions would cause the death of the drug user.
Again, the the drug dealer is certainly argue that they had no idea that the drugs would kill the drug user.
However, it’s going to be very hard for a jury do not think or believe that a drug dealer do the consequences of his actions by selling the drugs.

Drug Addiction and Tragedy

It is a tragedy when an individual is addicted to drugs. Oftentimes, there is an underlying mental health component that will affect their desire or want to continue using drugs.
The general public certainly understands that drug use is a serious epidemic in America. The recent opioid explosion that is called so many deaths has taken center stage with law enforcement and politicians who want to prevent any future loss of life.
It may be a deterrent two drug dealers if they face additional criminal penalties for their actions and the deaths they cause.

Let us Know What You Think

We want to know what you think, leave us a comment on our Facebook page and let started discussion about what should happen to drug dealers if the individuals they sell drugs to die.

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