14 June 2024
Drug-induced homicide laws: Effective or dangerous?

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Understanding Drug-Induced Homicide Laws

Drug-induced homicide (DIH) laws, also known as “death by distribution” or “delivery resulting in death” laws, are designed to hold individuals accountable for unlawful drug distribution if someone dies from an overdose. These laws have been in place since the 1980s but have seen a surge in prosecutions, especially since the onset of the opioid epidemic. In North Carolina alone, there have been 337 DIH cases filed between 2015 and 2022.

Prosecutorial Perspectives on DIH Laws

A recent study in North Carolina aimed to understand how prosecutors perceive DIH laws and what influences their decisions to pursue charges under these laws. Surveys were sent to district attorneys and assistant district attorneys, with 24 responses received from attorneys representing 42% of North Carolina’s prosecutorial districts. Surprisingly, the study found that prosecutors overwhelmingly believe that DIH prosecutions reduce fatal overdoses and deter illicit drug distribution in their communities, despite the lack of supporting evidence.

The Impact on Community Health and Safety

Contrary to prosecutors’ beliefs, research indicates that DIH prosecutions may have unintended consequences. There is evidence suggesting that prosecuting individuals under DIH laws can dissuade community members from calling emergency services during an overdose, potentially leading to more overdose deaths. Additionally, the study found that traditional factors predictive of prosecutions for other crimes, such as the number of assistant district attorneys or community-level variables like overdose rates, do not seem to apply to DIH prosecutions.

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Evaluating the Need for Further Research

While the study sheds light on the motivations behind DIH prosecutions in North Carolina, it underscores the importance of expanding research to other jurisdictions to gain a comprehensive understanding of prosecutorial decision-making in this area. With the available evidence challenging the perceived benefits of DIH laws, there is a critical need to reevaluate the approach to addressing drug-related fatalities and promoting public health and safety.

The study highlights the complexity of the issues surrounding drug-induced homicide laws and the potential unintended consequences of aggressive prosecution in drug-related cases. By examining the perspectives of prosecutors and the impact of DIH laws on affected communities, it prompts a reevaluation of current strategies and a call for evidence-based approaches to addressing drug overdoses and illicit drug distribution.

Links to additional Resources:

1. www.drugpolicy.org 2. www.sentencingproject.org 3. www.aclu.org

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Prosecutorial discretion, Drug overdose, Opioid epidemic

Prosecutorial discretion
In common law, the principle of prosecutorial discretion allows public prosecutors a wide latitude to decide whether or not to charge a person for a crime, and which charges to file. A similar principle in continental law countries is called the principle of opportunity. There is a divide between countries...
Read more: Prosecutorial discretion

Drug overdose
A drug overdose (overdose or OD) is the ingestion or application of a drug or other substance in quantities much greater than are recommended. Typically it is used for cases when a risk to health will potentially result. An overdose may result in a toxic state or death.
Read more: Drug overdose

Opioid epidemic
The opioid epidemic, also referred to as the opioid crisis, is the rapid increase in the overuse, misuse/abuse, and overdose deaths attributed either in part or in whole to the class of drugs called opiates/opioids since the 1990s. It includes the significant medical, social, psychological, demographic and economic consequences of...
Read more: Opioid epidemic

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