Coates & Davenport, P.C.

Should Virginia drug dealers be held responsible if death occurs?

Most Virginians would agree that too many people die because of illicit drug use. They may accidentally overdose, or the drugs could unknowingly be contaminated with other substances. These are very unfortunate situations. However, should drug dealers be charged with murder if the drugs they distributed lead to death?

Under current Virginia law, if a drug dealer provides a person with drugs and that person subsequently dies, the drug dealer may not be held legally responsible for the death (although he or she could still face other drug charges). However, a bill, known as "Amanda's Law," could significantly change the penalties for those accused of certain drug crimes. The bill has passed the Virginia House and Senate and is awaiting the governor's approval.

Under the bill, prosecutors would be able to charge drug dealers in such situations with murder, in addition to distribution charges. Currently, there are no statutes in Maryland that criminalize drug distribution resulting in death, and a judge in one 2018 court ruling stated that there is an inference that drug dealers do not want their customers to die, making it more difficult to prosecute dealers with murder charges. If approved, Amanda's Law will become effective starting on July 1.

This bill is very significant to those facing drug charges. It is unfortunate that sometimes a person who consumes illicit drugs passes away due to the drug use, but should such situations lead to additional criminal charges for those who provided the person with the drugs? Murder or manslaughter charges are very serious and could result in decades behind bars. A person who is convicted on murder charges will find their life forever changed. These are considerations that should be made before any such laws are enacted.

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