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Opioid Homicide Charges

April 30, 2018

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

A Galeton, Pennsylvania criminal case involving an opioid overdose led to the arrest and prosecution of a Lewistown woman for murder, as reported by the Olean Times Herald. The defendant was sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison for one count of drug delivery resulting in death, which is a first degree felony. According to the District Attorney, the defendant used a text message to coordinate the meeting time and location for the sale of 10 heroin packets laced with fentanyl, an opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. Under Pennsylvania law, drug delivery resulting in death is a first degree felony, punishable by up to 40 years in prison, or longer if the victim was younger than 13 years old. Any of the following intentional delivery methods of a controlled substance or counterfeit controlled substance constitutes a violation of this statute when the victim dies:

  • Administering;
  • Dispensing;
  • Delivering;
  • Giving;
  • Selling; and
  • Distributing.

As such, a person can be charged under this statute even if they did not sell the drug to the person who died. Simply administering it or giving it to them to use can result in a first degree felony.

The War on Drugs Continues

Typically, overdose deaths are not treated as homicides, but due to the growing opioid epidemic small time dealers are left to take the full blame when one of their supposed customers overdoses and dies.

In Some Pennsylvania Counties, Drug Delivery Resulting in Death is the Primary Homicide Charge

In some counties, drug delivery resulting in death is the number one homicide charge, as it is in Cumberland County where it makes up half of all murder charges. According to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, “If you’re peddling this poison in our communities and someone dies from it, we’re going to charge you to the fullest extent of the law.” In many cases in Franklin County, one death is linked to multiple drug dealers, so that the death of one opioid user can result in two or three homicide charges for various dealers in the area. A national study conducted by Health In Justice found that fewer than half of cases that involved delivery of a controlled substance that led to death were a typical dealer/buyer relationship. Instead, the majority of defendants in these cases were romantic partners, family members, caretakers, or friends of the deceased person.

Call an Attorney Now

van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim assists people who have been charged with drug crimes, homicide, and all other types of felonies and misdemeanors. Do not wait any longer to talk to an attorney. Contact us today for an experienced criminal defense attorney.



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