The Senate passed “Laree’s Law” on March 21 aimed at giving police and prosecutors the ability to charge mid- and high-level drug dealers with homicide if their product results in a person’s death.
The bill (S.2761), sponsored by Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, would allow police to charge a drug dealer with homicide if a death results from the sale of heroin or opioid.
“New York State has established itself as a leader when it comes to increasing prevention and education efforts, making treatment more accessible in every community, and ensuring strong support services for those in recovery,” said Amedore, who co-chairs the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction. “But we need to take on the heroin epidemic from all sides and that includes properly punishing the big business dealers that are bringing this poison into our communities.”
Currently, a person who provides an illicit drug that results in a users’ death can usually only be charged with the criminal sale of a controlled substance. This makes it easier for those involved to escape prosecution for the deaths they caused.
The District Attorneys Association of New York is in charge of prosecuting drug related offences. With no law in place, it has been difficult for DAs to prosecute the drug dealers whose drugs kill New Yorkers.
“Prosecutors throughout the State struggle everyday with opioid overdose death prosecutions. It would help us combat this epidemic if there was a law that would allow us to properly and fully prosecute those who are selling the drugs that are killing people in our communities,” said DAASNY President, Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara.
The law would target mid- to high-level drug dealers who profit from heroin sales. It decidedly does not punish co-users who shared the drug with the deceased in hopes they will come forward with information to aid the police.
New York’s “Good Samaritan Law” is in place now that shields individuals from charges related to an overdose if they attempt to help the individual and report the incident in a timely manner.
Laree’s Law is named in honor of Laree Farrell-Lincoln, an Albany County teenager who died of a heroin overdose in 2013. Her mother, Patty Farrell, has since been a strong advocate for holding drug dealers accountable for the deaths that resulted as a consequence of their crimes.
According to Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan, this statute would legislatively overturn the decision in the 1972 case People v. Pinkney, which held that an individual who sold heroin and a syringe to someone who injected and died cannot be charged with manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.
The law states, “If the Legislature had intended to include homicide by the selling of dangerous drugs, it would have amended the sections in the Penal Law relating to homicide.”
This statute would allow an indictment for a murder charge for anyone selling an opioid drug which results in death, and for anyone who imports the “opiate controlled substance” into the state or moves it from one county to another.
This would make it a “strict liability” statute, and the prosecutors would not have to prove that the dealers acted with reckless disregard for human life or with criminal negligence.
Currently, when a doctor is charged with homicide for selling prescriptions which resulted in death, or fentanyl dealers are indicted for the death of their customers, the charges have been manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, not murder.
The proposed statute would potentially enhance a prosecutor’s ability to charge the drug dealer’s supplier, but in practice it is difficult to tie the wholesale supplier to a specific batch of drugs which caused death.
“At best, the law would serve as a deterrent to drug sellers who put customers’ lives at risk, and don’t seemed fazed by current statutory exposure,” said Brennan.
The Senate budget included $265 million for laws and programs to help improve prevention, treatment, recovery and education services across the state.
Laree’s Law has been sent to the Assembly (A.3398) where it resides in the Codes Committee. It is sponsored there by Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, D-Jackson Heights.