Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Heroin Really Needs a Warning Label

Last week, a woman was found dead of a heroin overdose here in Madison. It seems to be a pretty routine (albeit tragic) story, but I ran across this interesting passage from the State Journal story:

Assistant District Attorney Mike Verveer said in court Monday that Prager is not only a defendant in the case but could be a material witness in what might become a "Len Bias" homicide case against the person who supplied the heroin that killed Schnitzler. People who supply illegal drugs that cause the death of a user can be charged with first- degree reckless homicide under the state's Len Bias law. That charge carries a penalty of up to 25 years in prison.
Now let me state up front that I have no tolerance for drug dealers, but this does seem a little weird. I supply something (albeit something illegal) to someone, and it is a crime. If I'm willing to take the risk of being a drug dealer, I should be able to look at the state law and figure out how much time I'm going to get. However, with this law, if someone I sell it to goes overboard and kills themselves with it, I'm then an accessory to murder? I had nothing to do with how the product was used - my criminal penalty at that point is completely out of my hands. How much jail time I get is incumbent on the actions of others whom I may never see again.

I don't believe we criminally penalize other products this way. In fact, the legislature is trying to make sure gun companies can't be sued for the actions of someone to whom they sell a gun, since what happens with the gun is completely up to the purchaser once they walk out of the store. If a friend gives me a baseball bat and I crack someone over the head with it, is he liable for what I did?

Obviously, an exception would occur if the drug dealer provided a drug laced with something that killed the person on the spot (and I'm not implying that there is such a thing as "responsible" heroin use).

I don't feel strongly either way on this, and I'm sure it was debated to death whenever the legislature enacted it. I have no problem with the law staying where it is, and I will likely be blown out of the water by a smart commenter and have to change my position (whatever it may be).

Just thought it was interesting.