Drug Delivery Resulting in Death – Federal Government (DOJ) charges Bodybuilding Coach (“Guru”) Ameen Alai
Drug overdose is a serious issue in the United States and it is a leading cause of death for people under the age of 50. A recent statistic showed the following:
“Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids have increased 97-fold. Overdose deaths involving psychostimulants (primarily methamphetamine) with abuse potential have increased 59-fold.,. Overdose deaths involving cocaine have increased 6.4-fold. And overdose deaths involving prescription opioids have increased 4.9 -fold. Source: National Vital Statistics System Mortality File
To combat this problem federal and state governments are targeting drug dealers and prosecuting these individuals for drug delivery resulting in these deaths.
United States vs. Ameen Alai
While these statutes of been around for quite some time, the increasing volume of overdose deaths have caused local prosecutors offices to increase the frequency of pursuing low level drug dealers as well as individuals who don’t fit the characterization of a dealer for these allegations. Recently, bodybuilding coach (aka guru), Ameen Alai, was indicted on one count of distribution of Ibogaine, a scheduled one controlled substance following the death of one of his alleged clients.
It is alleged according to the indictment, that on or about March 19, 2021, Alai knowingly and intentionally distributed a mixture and substance containing amounts of Ibogaine which resulted in the death of an individual. Alai was indicted following an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) and the U.S. Marshall service took Alai into custody following the alleged three-month fugitive investigation.
What is Ibogaine?
Ibogaine is not currently approved for any medical uses and is therefor a Schedule I drug. Its use has been associated with serious side effects and death. Between the years 1990 and 2008, a total of 19 fatalities temporally associated with the ingestion of ibogaine were reported, from which six subjects died of acute heart failure or cardiopulmonary arrest. The total number of subjects who have used it without major side effects during this period remains unknown.
The experience of ibogaine occurs in two parts, which are commonly called the visionary phase and the introspection phase. The visionary phase has been described as dreamlike and it lasts for 4 to 6 hours. The second phase, the introspection phase, is responsible for the psychotherapeutic effects. It allegedly allow people to conquer their fears and negative emotions.
What is the criminal penalty for drug delivery resulting in death?
According to USC 21 U.S. Code § 841, the maximum sentence for this charge is 20 years to life in prison as it appears that Alai has no prior criminal history. There are enhanced penalties if the defendant has a previous conviction and/or if the distribution results in bodily in jury or if death results. If Alai had a prior drug conviction, the mandatory minimum would have been 15 for 1 prior and 25 years 2 or more prior convictions
The federal government prosecutes drug distribution cases for a number of substances including methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana and heroin. These cases are prosecuted in Federal Court and in addition to distribution charges, the prosecution can charge drug conspiracy charges as well.
What is criminal conspiracy? Could others be charged?
A conspiracy is any agreement to do an illegal act which must contain two (2) elements; (1) two or more people participate in a criminal activity and agree either explicitly or inexplicitly to do so. This can include transporting and selling drugs for profit, making deliveries, storage of the substance and/or handling financial transactions with regards to the precedes, (2) an attempt to carry out the purpose and goal of the conspiracy.
It is important to keep in mind that even if the conspiracy fails, the conspirators can still be prosecuted for the charge, as well as the principal act. A conspirator can be anyone who is part of a drug trafficking organization even if that person is not necessarily involved in the actual possession or storage of the substance. For example, a person who does online marketing or some type of online hosting for a drug organization can be prosecuted for conspiracy.
If a customer’s use of the drug or substance results in their death or bodily injury, this will increase the penalties for the trafficking. The prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the injury or death was from the drug sold and the prosecution only needs to establish that the drugs contributed to the injury or death to obtain a conviction.
What are the defenses to a drug delivery resulting in death charge?
There are 2 very strong defenses available for individuals accused of this felony drug charge – joint user defense and attacking causation.
Joint User Defense
The joint user defense can undermine the distribution charge that is essential to achieve the drug induced homicide charge. The joint use doctrine provides that 2 individuals who jointly acquire possession of a drug for their own use, intending to only share it, are guilty only of the crime of drug possession without any intent to distribute the drug any further. This is an ungraded misdemeanor offense. The legal basis of this rule is that users who jointly acquire drugs to use with each other are either in constructive or actual possession of the drug and a person cannot distribute the drug to someone already in possession of it.
Courts will consider the following factors if this defense is asserted:
Relationship of the parties
The statement and conduct of the parties
The degree of control exercised by one over the other
Whether the parties traveled and purchased the drug together
The quantity of drugs involved
Whether one party had sole possession of the controlled dangerous substance for any significant length of time
This is a fact sensitive analysis. While criminal judges evaluate all issues of law during a trial, issues of fact are for a jury to decide unless a defendant elects to pursue a bench trial as opposed to a jury trial.
With regards to causation, the prosecution does not have to establish that a specific drug necessarily killed the individual through an overdose, they still must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the accused sold or gave the drug in question. This can be extremely difficult in the cases of long-time drug users especially in situations where deceased are found with drug paraphernalia which contains no distinctive markings or stamps.
If you’re charged with drug delivery resulting in death, it is very important that your criminal defense attorney not only look at causation but also the joint user defense. The causation defense should challenge any scientific findings which would include autopsy and toxicology results.
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