Man Who Shared Drugs That Caused Fatal Overdose Appeals Conviction

By Kelly Burch 02/08/19
Two friends pooled money to buy heroin. Should the one who made the run be held responsible for the other's fatal overdose?
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In October 2013, Jesse Carillo, a college student at the University of Massachusetts, headed south to New York, where he purchased heroin before returning to campus. Back at home he shared the drugs with his friend Eric Sinacori.

Two days later, Carillo made the same run, and again brought drugs back for Sinacori. The next day, Sinacori died at age 20 from a heroin overdose. 

Carillo was charged in connection with the overdose, and sentenced to a year in jail for involuntary manslaughter and drug distribution. However, he appealed his conviction and on Monday (Feb. 4) the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts heard the case over whether people should face charges when the drugs they share lead to a fatal overdose. 

“When Jesse and another addict pooled their funds to purchase this heroin, it should not constitute manslaughter when the other addict overdosed,” Jay Carney, Carrillo’s lawyer, told The Boston Globe before the hearing. “We are asking the SJC to reassess the approaches taken in heroin cases given the opiate crisis in Massachusetts... These addicts should not be treated the same as drug dealers selling heroin for profit.”

Before the SJC, Carney emphasized that Carrillo, who now works at a recovery center, was not criminally responsible for his friend’s overdose.

"Jesse Carrillo was not a drug dealer. He didn't profit from getting Eric the heroin, he didn't benefit in any way. He just pooled the money, went to the dealer, purchased it, and gave Eric exactly what he had paid for,” the lawyer said, according to WBUR

In Massachusetts, officials including the governor and attorney general have called for stricter penalties for people who provide the drugs that lead to an overdose. However, Carney insisted that these calls should focus on dealers, not people like Carillo who merely purchased the drugs for friends. 

"I realize that I raised the hackles of the attorney general, who filed an amicus brief saying heroin is wicked bad. It's wicked bad. We know that," Carillo said. "What we have to determine is, is a person acting as a possessor of heroin when he buys heroin in a joint venture with another person?”

Justice Scott Kafker seemed to take the point, especially since Carillo and Sinacori had purchased drugs together before from the same dealer that they used in October 2013. 

"He's bought this heroin multiple times, used it himself, he's not died on any of these occasions. Isn’t that about as safe a drug delivery as we're going to hear about when you're dealing with heroin?” Kafker said. 

However, Northwestern Assistant District Attorney Cynthia Von Flatern, who was prosecuting the case, said that Carillo was acting recklessly by supplying drugs to someone with a severe addiction. The case hinges on whether Carillo was acting in a “wanton and reckless” manner by giving Sinacori the drugs. 

Around the country, drug users often face charges when the people they are using with overdose. In Massachusetts, the case is expected to have policy implications when the SJC issues a ruling, which is expected within 130 days.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.