Virginia to Prosecute Drug Dealers for Deaths of Customers

By May Wilkerson 02/11/16

Drug dealers in Virginia could soon be held legally accountable for the overdose deaths of their customers.

Virginia to Prosecute Drug Dealers for Deaths of Customers
Photo via Shutterstock

At a news conference yesterday in the Norfolk area, U.S. Attorney Dana Boente and Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued a stern warning to local dealers and pledged to fund investigation and prosecution of deaths related to heroin, which have been a growing problem in the region.

“We hope that they understand that they will be prosecuted and there will be severe penalties for selling heroin when someone dies,” said Boente in an interview. “And if people sell heroin, sooner or later, someone will die from their sale.”

The announcement came on the heels of Boente, Herring and other federal and local law enforcement officials publicizing the guilty plea of Gregory Hatt, 28, who confessed to selling the heroin that resulted in the overdose death of 23-year-old Monica Beaudry. He was charged with heroin distribution resulting in death, which carries a minimum sentence of 20 years.

The ability to prosecute dealers for drug-related deaths could offer prosecutors a powerful tool in the controversial War on Drugs. Boente noted that the Supreme Court has set up guidelines to restrict prosecutors from abusing it, allowing them only to charge dealers when their drugs can be directly linked to a death. But he added: “If we can charge that within the requirements of the law, we’re going to, in appropriate cases, charge that case, and we’re going to be aggressive in those investigations.” Virginia lawmakers are also considering a bill that would make it a felony murder for dealers to sell illicit drugs that lead to someone’s death.

Heroin and opioid overdose deaths have reached epidemic proportions across the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And heroin-related overdoses have tripled since 2010, leading to 10,574 deaths since 2014.

In Virginia, which has seen a spike in heroin-related fatalities, federal prosecutors have been prosecuting heroin cases for years, especially those involving large quantities of the drug or users who died from an overdose. In 2014, for example, a federal judge in Alexandria sentenced a DC drug dealer to 30 years in prison after his heroin was linked to the deaths of three young users.

Boente said he expects this type of prosecution to increase, as more resources are devoted to fighting the state’s heroin problem. He did, however, add that efforts to prevent substance use and treat drug addiction are also necessary. “This can’t just be prosecutions,” he said. “It’s got to be education and prevention, and it’s got to be treatment.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.