Can Drug Dealers Be Charged With Murder for an Overdose?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on September 30, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Heroin overdoses nationwide have been skyrocketing, and police forces have been responding with enhanced penalties for dealers. In some cases, prosecutors are even charging dealers with murder if one of their customers ODs.

It's a relatively new phenomenon, and seemingly at odds with the softening stance in the War on Drugs.

New Charges

At the same time when politicians and law enforcement officials are looking to reduce prison populations by lessening the punishments for recreational drug use, prosecutors are ramping up efforts to charge and convict heroin dealers for murder:

And it's not just state and local authorities pushing overdose prosecutions. The Department of Justice has also been pursuing OD charges, with a federal court in one case sentencing a man to 20 years in federal prison for "Distribution of Heroin Resulting in Death."

Inconsistent Charges

The disparity in charges, prosecutions, and punishments shows a lack of consistency in how drug dealers are handled in the case of an overdose. And while there's a trend in murder charges for dealers, whether to bring charges and which charges to bring is largely up to the prosecutors.

Generally, it's hard to prove first degree murder in these cases because the charge requires premeditation and intent to kill the victim. On the other hand, second degree murder could be proven with evidence of dangerous conduct and the defendant's lack of concern for human life. In some cases, prosecutors have charged involuntary manslaughter, which normally only requires a reckless disregard for human life and the defendant's knowledge that his or her conduct was a threat to the lives of others.

How crimes are defined and enforced can vary depending on where you live and the circumstances of your case. If you've been charged with a crime, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

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