Heroin overdoses could lead to stiff penalties for alleged dealers

People may not be their brothers’ keepers, but a commitment by the authorities could see alleged dealers held criminally responsible for heroin overdoses.

Most people are aware that drug distribution is an aggressively prosecuted criminal charge in Virginia, and elsewhere. This is particularly true when such allegations involve heroin and other schedule I substances. What many may not know, however, is that they could face more severe charges and penalties based on what happens to the people who purportedly purchased such drugs from them.

Distribution resulting in death

Like state law, federal law also prohibits people from manufacturing, possessing or distributing heroin with the intention of manufacturing, possessing or distributing this controlled substance. Essentially, this means that anyone who is allegedly involved with the making or dispensing of this drug could be charged as a drug dealer. Unlike federal law, however, state law only addresses situations in which the alleged distribution of a controlled substance does not result in bodily injury or death.

Federal law imposes severe minimum sentencing requirements in cases when a death results from the distribution of heroin. This includes a fine of $10,000,000 for individual people or $50,000,000 for those who are not acting alone. Additionally, those convicted of this offense could be sentenced to between 20 years and life in prison. These penalties may be enhanced for people who have previously been convicted of a felony drug-related offense.

Linking distributions to deaths

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 10,574 heroin-related deaths across the U.S. in 2014. That said, not every distribution case, nor every overdose, may lead to distribution resulting in death. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has imposed strict limitations on when people should and should not be charged with this offense. In order to pursue a conviction on such charges, the authorities must be able to directly tie the drugs that someone allegedly sold to another person to his or her death. This may be accomplished through chemical testing of the drugs people are allegedly producing or selling and those found in the system of a decedent, among other means.

Consulting with an attorney

Whether alleged heroin distribution results in death or not, people in Virginia could face serious consequences if they are arrested for dealing drugs. To help ensure their rights are protected, it may be of benefit for those who are under investigation or who have been arrested on such charges to seek legal guidance. An attorney may help them build a solid criminal defense, as well as aid them in determining the best course of action for their specific circumstances.