Although it’s a controversial position among some, the trend in legal circles to charge known drug dealers with manslaughter after overdose deaths is a move in the right direction.
When it comes to the current epidemic involving opioids and the disturbing amount of daily overdoses, there is a feeling of helplessness and confusion over what can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen to our own families.
Despite constant reminders and education about the dangers of drugs in the home and schools, the worry and concern will never subside for most parents who fear for their children’s future. A little bit of comfort can be found in knowing the legal system is looking to do its part to crack down on the source.
In Worcester, as early as May of last year, manslaughter convictions have occurred after the State Attorney’s Office and law enforcement were able to link the drug that resulted in the overdose to a specific dealer. In one case last year, a 10-year sentence was handed down after an involuntary manslaughter conviction. That led to a stern warning being issued by State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby.
“This verdict sends a clear and unmistakable message to drug dealers,” he said. “If you choose to profit from the misery and suffering of others, we will find you, and should the unthinkable tragedy of a fatal overdose occur because of your sale, expect a knock on your door with an arrest warrant for manslaughter.”
Across the state the same approach is slowly revealing itself. In a story in yesterday’s Baltimore Sun, “Maryland prosecutors pursue manslaughter, murder in overdose cases,” there were several different examples cited from western shore counties where second-degree depraved heart murder charges were filed. In a specific case cited, the suspect was acquitted of the murder and manslaughter charges but found guilty of reckless endangerment. In that article, detractors of the tough accountability stance on dealers contend there is no evidence this public display of cracking down on dealers has any “deterrent effect.”
To that, we say it’s too early to tell if that’s true. We agree pursuing a second-degree murder charge is probably going too far in most cases, but we think the approach to charge dealers with manslaughter and hold them accountable for the death of their customers is entirely reasonable and prudent.
We hope more and more jurisdictions across the country begin holding drug dealers criminally responsible for overdoses. It’s a start in trying to change the culture of these drug addicts and dealers. Whether it has a major impact or a long-term success is anyone’s guess at this point, but it’s certainly worth the resources to prosecute and get these despicable, remorseless peddlers of poison off the streets.