This week, the website Mother Jones published a very telling piece about the realities of overdosing and what potential criminal charges can go along with it. Though many may not realize it, sharing a drug like heroin could actually lead to a murder conviction. As Mother Jones illustrates; it happened in Louisiana back in 2013, when a user shared his stash and his friend fatally OD’d.
Jarret McCasland was picked up by the Baton Rouge police department for what he thought was a minor traffic violation. In reality, cops were informed that his friend, Flavia Cardenas, died from a heroin overdose that was supplied by him. Before he knew it, Jarret was facing life in prison for Flavia’s murder.
Interestingly enough, this isn’t a new occurrence and now 20 U.S. states are allowing cases like this to move forward. The first round of OD murder charges stem back to the 1980’s and the rise of crack cocaine. Now, according to Mother Jones, prosecutors are aggressively pursuing cases like this again and nine more states are considering applying the law.
As Mother Jones staffer Jessica Pishko writes, “Prosecutors are increasingly using a 1987 law to charge people who provide or dispense the drugs in fatal overdoses with second-degree murder, triggering an automatic lifewithout-parole sentence, without regard to intent. Though it’s hard to track how often the law is used, data from the Drug Policy Institute suggests prosecutions have skyrocketed over the last five years.”
McCasland was ultimately found guilty on the count of second-degree murder, particularly because he was present when Cardenas died. Now he sits in Louisiana State Penitentiary with a 99-year sentence.
Since Jarret’s conviction in 2013, Louisiana prosecutors have charged two more people with similar crimes. Their circumstances were slightly different, but led to manslaughter convictions and 10 years behind bars.
Several attorneys have argued that this type of harsh sentencing is unfair and goes against the intent of the original law. Stephen Singer, a Louisiana lawyer who spoke to Mother Jones, believes that it was initially enacted to target dealers and not necessarily the companions of people who OD.
“This is not what the Legislature had in mind when passing this statute,” he told the site. “I think they meant to go after real dealers, not end users sharing.”
McCasland’s defenders agree with that sentiment and believe the jury was swayed because he was portrayed as a dealer. Whatever the reason, it is certainly important that people battling addiction are aware of these consequences. Shooting up is incredibly dangerous. Not only does it put your life in jeopardy, it can also cost you your freedom.