Drug overdose deaths are at a historic high in Philadelphia. How will it change criminal prosecutions of dealers and addicts?
In 2021, the City of Philadelphia saw the highest number of total overdoes with over 1,200 people dying within the city from illegal drug use. Deaths increased across all racial groups. This trend in the City of Philadelphia is similar to what occurred at State and national level. Deaths involving opioids are actually decreasing, while deaths involving stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine are increasing. Fentanyl was present in 94% of deaths involving opioids. Another drug found in 34% of overdose cases was an animal tranquilizer known as Xylazine. This drug is combined with Fentanyl or heroin to produce long lasting highs.
How will drug overdose deaths change criminal prosecutions in Pennsylvania?
This rise in deaths has led district attorney offices across the Commonwealth to consider more aggressive cases against drug dealers. Drug overdose is a serious issue in the United States and it is actually the leading cause of death for persons under the age of 50. To fight this growing problem, more prosecutors across the Commonwealth are bringing drug delivery resulting in death charges against dealers.
Drug Delivery Resulting in Death Charges – What does the prosecution need to prove at trial?
In Pennsylvania, Drug Delivery Resulting in Death is a felony of the first degree under Title 18, Section 250. If a dealer is convicted, he or she faces a maximum sentence of up to 40 years of State incarceration. In these criminal cases, the prosecution is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused intentionally sold or delivered a controlled substance (heroin, cocaine or even prescription drugs) and a person died because of that substance.
A very important issue in these cases is that prosecution does not need to establish that a specific drug led to a person’s death. A dealer, therefore, can be charged and convicted of this offense even if the autopsy reveals a combination of drugs existed in a person’s system at the time of their untimely demise. This is a very serious charge but there are very two strong legal defenses available for individuals accused of drug delivery resulting in death.
What Are Possible Defenses to Drug Delivery Resulting in Death?
Joint Drug User Defense
Two individuals who jointly acquire a possession of a drug or narcotic for their own use are only guilty of a crime of illegal drug possession. This is an ungraded misdemeanor. The legal theory is the users jointly acquire the drug to use with each other in constructive or actual possession; there is therefore no intent to distribute or sell the substance.
For this type of defense, your criminal defense lawyer should assert the following points at a criminal judge or jury trial.
- Statement and conduct of parties
- Relationship with the parties
- The degree of control exercised by one or the other
- How the drug was purchased or transported
- Quantity of drug
The Causation Defense to Drug Delivery Resulting in Death?
The prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused sold or gave the drug in question. This can be extremely difficult, especially in cases with long-time users where a deceased is found with drug paraphernalia with no distinctive markings. It can be difficult, if not impossible, for the prosecution to establish that a particular drug came from a particular dealer if the long-time drug addict can be shown to have purchased from multiple drug dealers and multiple times during the course of months or even years.
Other Type of Illegal Drug and Narcotic Charges
If you’re charged with a drug delivery resulting in death, the prosecution can also charge you with other crimes such as possession of a drug or narcotic with the intent to distribute. This is also a felony crime, which could subject you to a State prison sentence in Pennsylvania or New Jersey. In addition to this felony drug distribution charge, you can also face prosecution for simple drug possession. Simple drug possession is an ungraded misdemeanor charge. If convicted, you will most likely not face a substantial county or prison sentence especially if you have no prior criminal history. In addition, you may be eligible for various drug diversion programs especially given the growing addiction problem in the country.
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