The Tribune looks into Illinois’ Drug Induced Homicide law

Last March I wrote about Illinois’ Drug Induced Homicide law, which makes it a Class X felony if someone gives another person a narcotic that causes death.  My problem was that the law, as written, is extremely overbroad and covers situations such as where a boyfriend and girlfriend share heroin, one dies, and the other gets 15 to 30 years in prison for surviving.

Now Christy Gutowski of the Chicago Tribune has written an lengthy piece about this law, which can be found here.  In it, she quotes me, which of course makes her brilliant.

So please take a look at it.

The article is timely as it is appearing a day after the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who apparently died of a heroin overdose.  It has been reported that Hoffman had a drug problem when he was younger, and had gone 23 years of being clean and sober until a relapse one or two years ago.  Even then, he went through treatment and cleaned up, only to relapse again.  Here was a man who had been clean and sober for over two decades, had the support of friends and family and the resources to get the best possible drug treatment, yet he could not stay away from heroin.  It is a horribly addicting drug.  So why should we prosecute the fellow junkie who shared the needle?  Isn’t he a victim too?



Gotta blame someone, right? Our “drug induced homicide” law

keatingThe Chicago Tribune is reporting that a Romeoville woman is being charged with “drug induced homicide” in the heroin overdose death of a young man a year and a half ago.  According to the story:

A 22-year-old Romeoville woman serving time in the Illinois Department of Corrections on two Will County drug convictions has been charged with drug-induced homicide in the fatal heroin overdose of a 20-year-old Plainfield-area man in 2011.

Will County Sheriff’s Police spokeswoman Kathy Hoffmeyer said Kristina L. Keating, of the 2000 block of Whitmore Drive, provided Emelio R. Medina with heroin on Oct. 28, 2011, from a source in Chicago. Medina’s mother and sister found him unresponsive in his bedroom around 1 p.m. the next day, Hoffmeyer said.

Keating and two other friends told investigators they had been with Medina the previous night at his home, where he was restricted as the result of a residential burglary conviction, Hoffmeyer said. …

She is the second person this week to be charged with drug-induced homicide, a Class X felony …

The statute states:

(720 ILCS 5/9-3.3) (from Ch. 38, par. 9-3.3)
    Sec. 9-3.3. Drug-induced homicide.
    (a) A person who violates Section 401 of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act or Section 55 of the Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act by unlawfully delivering a controlled substance to another, and any person's death is caused by the injection, inhalation, absorption, or ingestion of any amount of that controlled substance, commits the offense of drug-induced homicide.
    (b) Sentence. Drug-induced homicide is a Class X felony.
    (c) A person who commits drug-induced homicide by violating subsection (a) or subsection (c) of Section 401 of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act or Section 55 of the Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act commits a Class X felony for which the defendant shall in addition to a sentence authorized by law, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 15 years and not more than 30 years or an extended term of not less than 30 years and not more than 60 years.
(Source: P.A. 97-191, eff. 7-22-11.)

While the original idea behind this statute was to punish drug dealers for poisoning our youth, in my experience, the reality of actual “drug induced homicide” cases is that they are about two friends/lovers/co-dependent addicts who are sharing heroin.  One dies, and the other is charged as if he or she is at fault.

All that is required for this charge is a “delivery” of a controlled substance, which causes death.  A “delivery” occurs just by handing someone some drugs.  No sale is required.

I suspect that a lot of these prosecutions are urged on by grieving parents.  No one has to tell me what it is like to have a loved one die because of a heroin addiction.  It has happened in my family.  I have also seen it with clients.  I suppose that it is only natural that the parents of the deceased will seek to blame someone else for the death — and ignore the fact that it was their son or daughter who injected themselves with the drugs.  Instead, their target becomes the boyfriend who got her started on heroin or the girlfriend who kept causing him to relapse.

I don’t deny that often there is some truth to these assertions.  But the fact is that an addict will keep hanging around the people, places and things that are bad for him because he craves that hit and he wants to be around those people that can provide it.

The person who usually gets charged with “drug induced homicide” is not a pusher but a fellow addict, someone who cannot control his or her own cravings, and someone who, but for the grace of god, is lucky to still be alive.

What is gained by prosecuting such a person, assigning blame for a homicide, and locking him up from fifteen to sixty years?  Why not just charge him with possession of narcotics, and send him to treatment and random urine tests? One approach condemns, the other might save.

What do you think?