Heroin Dealers and Overdose Deaths-What are the Consequences?

My last blog article examined the unfortunate comeback of Heroin in Central Ohio as the drug of choice for former abusers of prescription pain killers.  Law enforcement’s campaign to reduce the abuse of opioid painkillers, like OxyContin, is having an unintended consequence.  Abusers are now switching to the more-plentiful and dirt-cheap heroin, which sometimes sells as low as $10 a dose.  The problem, of course, is that heroin is not only addictive but also very deadly.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office reported that overdose deaths have doubled in a 3 year period in Ohio with 292 such deaths reported in 2010 while 606 were reported in 2012.  (For more on this trend, check out this Columbus Dispatch article.) Because of these alarming trends, state and federal officials have increased the prosecutions of individuals for sale and possession of heroin, both of which are felony offenses.  My last blog explained the severe and draconian penalties under Ohio law where the sale of more than 10 grams can result in a mandatory prison sentence.

But with the death of Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and the arrest of his dealers, a significant question has been raised:  Can heroin dealers/suppliers face more serious charges like murder if their buyers overdose and die?

Under Ohio law, a heroin dealer probably cannot be charged with murder if their buyer dies of an overdose.  Murder, under Ohio law, is defined in R.C. §2903.02 as “purposely causing the death of another or causing the death of another as a proximate result of committing a felony offense of violence”.  An accidental overdose would not result in a murder charge.  A dealer, however, could be charged with involuntary manslaughter defined in R.C. § 2903.04 as “causing the death of another or the unlawful termination of another’s pregnancy as a proximate result of the offender committing a felony offense”.

For example, a dealer who sells heroin, which is a felony offense, to a person who overdoses and dies, can be charged with involuntary manslaughter which is a felony of the first degree and carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.  If the buyer is pregnant, and her pregnancy is terminate due to the use of heroin, the dealer can also face charges of involuntary manslaughter with similar penalties.

What happens if the buyer or user of the drug does not die but becomes addicted to the drug or suffers serious physical harm from its use?  Ohio law contains an offense called “Corrupting Another with Drugs” which is a violation of R.C. §2925.02.  A violation of this law can occur in several different ways.  If a person “furnishes” or “administers” to another a drug like heroin and said person suffers a serious injury, i.e. an overdose but not death, then this offense is committed.  Likewise, if a 19 year old supplies his 17 year old girlfriend with the drug then he could be charged with this offense.  Corrupting another with drugs is a serious offense and is a felony of the second degree which carries a potential sentence of 8 years in prison.

A cautionary note with the offense of corruption.  Unlike trafficking offenses which require a “sale” of drugs, a person can violate R.C. §2925.02 (corrupting another) by simply furnishing the drugs and using them with the victim of the offense.  Therefore, giving someone heroin and using it with them can result in a violation of the statute if the user is a juvenile, becomes drug dependent, or suffers serious physical harm.

Have you been charged with a crime? It is important to protect your rights right away.  W. Joseph Edwards has over 30 years of criminal defense experience.  Contact him at 614.309-0243 for a free consultation.  Available 24/7.

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