- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) - Hoping to curb what authorities have called a rising heroin epidemic in the suburbs of New York City, a Long Island prosecutor has drafted “death by dealer” legislation by which heroin dealers could be charged with homicide if their customers fatally overdose.

Under the proposal, prosecutors could charge dealers with felony homicide if there is evidence the drugs they sold contributed to the person’s death, Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, whose office wrote the bill, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. Those convicted of the highest-level homicide charge under the proposed law could face a maximum of 25 years in prison.

In most circumstances, state law doesn’t allow drug dealers to be charged with homicide in connection with a customer’s death.

“It’s something that was absolutely a hole in our laws,” Singas said during an interview at her office. “It’s something that needs to be addressed, especially as people are dying more and more frequently.”

Singas said prosecutors would need to rely on the same evidence they already use in the courtroom - pointing to cases where they had confessions, wire taps and text messages - to prove the customer’s relationship with the dealer.

Assemblyman Tod Kaminsky said he plans to push for the legislation when the legislature resumes in January.

“If you look at the fact that a dealer can give someone what amounts to a lethal dosage and have it be treated almost like a run-of-the-mill crime, we have a problem,” he said.

Joseph Lo Piccolo, former president of the Criminal Courts Bar Association of Nassau County, said he thought the proposal was “reactionary and overreaching.”

“They are fraught with slippery slopes,” he said. “Simply put, this proposed bill would allow a charge of murder if drugs are found in a person who overdoses and the prosecution can show that the accused sold drugs of a similar nature to the deceased.”

The legislation was drafted after prosecutors consulted family members of drug addicts who died and sought assistance from the district attorney’s office. Singas said she could think of at least three recent cases where she would have liked to bring a homicide charge, but could not under current law. One case involved a 30-year-old man who died of an overdose; the dealer was charged with selling heroin to the man but not charged with his death.

“There’s definitely a realization that we don’t have the tools necessary to adequately prosecute those who are killing our kids,” Singas said. “It’s time to hold drug dealers … those who are dealing death on our streets, that we hold them accountable.”

Also, Singas proposed changing statutes to forbid courts from referring some drug dealers to non-jail diversion programs by creating a higher felony charge based on the weight of heroin, and she wants to increase the penalties for those caught selling heroin to children.

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