Staten Island has joined a growing list of New York jurisdictions where prosecutors are aggressively seeking to charge accused drug dealers implicated in heroin overdoses. The district attorney there, Michael E. McMahon, has brought charges in more than 240 overdose cases, reports the New York Times, applying a strategy being used by prosecutors in upstate New York and on Long Island. The cases are tough. Prosecutors said they must tie the medical evidence about the drugs ingested to a fatal overdose, which requires careful dissection of toxicology reports. And they must present evidence that a dealer knew the risks of the drugs yet provided them anyway, something defense lawyers can argue is anathema to dealers’ aims: to propagate customers, not kill them.
Jurors must balance thorny questions, discerning addicts from predators in the drug-dealer ranks and deciding if a dealer should be held responsible for the death of someone who ingests drugs known to be dangerous. Around the city, a more common path for such cases has been through federal courts. Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have brought 13 cases over the last four years charging people with “distribution of drugs causing death,” a statute that carries a 20-year minimum sentence. A bill in Albany, dubbed Laree’s Law, to create a homicide charge in state cases, has languished in the Assembly.