It’s difficult to argue against the fact that heroin is an extremely destructive drug. It’s highly addictive, comes cheaper than most abused prescription drugs and has destroyed countless lives. It’s also deadly; in the Twin Cities alone, 120 people died in 2011 from heroin overdoses.
But the choice to use heroin or any other illegal drug is a personal one. We hear of very few accounts where people have been forced against their will to use heroin. Even in cases where one person encourages another, the user ultimately makes the choice to try it for the first or subsequent times.
Prosecutors in Hennepin County, however, see things differently. Spurred by the rising number of fatal heroin overdoses, they’re going after dealers, seeking third-degree murder charges against those who sell heroin to people who die after using it.
Thanks to a 1987 state law expansion, deaths caused by heroin and other Schedule I and Schedule II drugs may be prosecuted with a third-degree murder charge — the equivalent of unintentional homicide under Minnesota law. People convicted of selling these drugs to someone who fatally overdoses may be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.
Third-degree murder charges under these circumstances can be very difficult to prove, however, because prosecutors must establish a direct connection between the dealer and the user who dies of the drug. It must be proved that the drugs that killed the user came directly from a defendant, usually either through an admission or surveillance of the drug deal itself. Six people have been charged with third-degree murder drug cases in the past year and a half, and only one of those cases has ended in a conviction.
But that doesn’t mean prosecutors in Hennepin County and other areas of the state won’t keep diligently trying to put overdose deaths on the shoulders of dealers. Although it’s the user who makes the choice to take a risk on heroin, people suspected of providing the drug for a price can expect to be charged and possibly punished heavily for that deadly decision.
Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Drug dealers charged with murder in Twin Cities heroin overdose deaths,” Matt McKinney, April 29, 2013