Recently, police in the suburbs of Chicago began prosecuting drug dealers for murder if the drugs they sell cause a fatal overdose. This strategy started within the last four years and spread to being used in multiple drug deaths across the city. While the strategy of prosecuting dealers for the deaths their drugs cause is new, it is already yielding results.
The law that allows police to prosecute drug dealers for homicide was established in 1989. While the law existed for approximately three decades, it was almost never used. It was intended to help deter the illegal drug trade by holding those who dealt drugs responsible not only for their actions but also for the consequences of those actions.
The 1989 law was not regularly used by police until 2015 when Sydney Schergen fatally overdosed on ecstasy. Sydney’s mother, Theresa Almanza, was a police officer in Chicago and was dedicated to finding justice for Sydney. She turned to the little-used law and pursued the case until the people who sold Sydney the ecstasy were prosecuted and convicted for murder.
Since Sydney’s case, prosecutors in McHenry County in the suburbs of Chicago have been successfully using the 1989 law to prosecute multiple drug dealers for homicide. In 2017 there were 80 overdose deaths in McHenry County, and eight dealers were charged with homicide. In 2018 the number of overdose deaths dropped to 51, and 15 dealers were charged.
The success produced in McHenry County may be replicated throughout the rest of Chicago. Police around Chicago began setting up task forces to investigate drug deaths and prosecute them as homicides.
This decision is not without controversy. Those who oppose holding drug dealers accountable for the consequences of their actions argue that dealers should not be held accountable for how people use the drugs that they purchase. They also argue that the definition of a dealer can be ambiguous. They fear that two friends sharing drugs could result in one being prosecuted if the other overdoses.
While there is some controversy, the results of the initiative taken by prosecutors in McHenry County show that enforcing the 1989 law decreased overdose deaths. Prosecuting dealers for the deaths their drugs cause has been shown to reduce overdose deaths and may help reduce the drug crisis affecting the city of Chicago. The results of implementing this policy city-wide will soon be evident to both supporters and detractors.
Hitzeman, Harry. “Drug-Induced Homicide Charges in Death of St. Charles-Area Man.” Daily Herald, May 20, 2019. Accessed June 15, 2019.
Mitchell, Mary. “Rarely Used Illinois Law Could Help in Fight to Get Tainted Drugs Off Street.” Chicago Sun Times, May 13, 2019. Accessed June 15, 2019.
Tucker, Dorothy. “Stepmother Goes After Drug Dealers Who Sold Ecstasy That Killed Her Teenage Daughter.” CBS Chicago, April 5, 2019. Accessed June 15, 2019.
Keilman, John. “Who Counts as a Drug Dealer? As Heroin Overdoses Soar, Drug-Induced Homicide Law Blurs Line Between Exploiter and Victim.” Chicago Tribune, August 10, 2018. Accessed June 15, 2019.