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Police may charge drug crimes and homicide in overdose cases

The opioid epidemic in Michigan and throughout the country has caused law enforcement and other agencies to devise strategies to combat that form of drug traffic. They have also focused on trying to reduce the numbers of overdose deaths from opioid use. One strategy of law enforcement agencies has been to crack down and include, in addition to drug crimes, a charge of homicide against the dealers who provide drugs to the individual who then dies from an overdose.

It is a difficult proposition for a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the dealer was a substantial factor in causing the person's death. There are several strong and viable defenses that the accused individual can raise in such a prosecution, not the least of which is the issue of whether the accused was in fact the provider of the  suspected substance. These considerations may apply in a recent arrest by the Michigan State Police and the West Bloomfield Police of a 41-year-old Detroit man.

The arrest occurred after the authorities searched the man's residence pursuant to a search warrant. Police have not specified the charges against him. However, they have indicated that he is suspected in connection with the opioid overdose death of a 26-year-old West Bloomfield woman on Aug. 8. They also state that the investigation continues and that charges are pending. This may indicate that controlled substances found in the search are being analyzed for a connection to the drugs found in the decedent's body. 

In such cases, the prosecution must prove first that the accused is guilty of the drug crimes associated with selling the precise substance involved in the overdose. The prosecution must also rule out other causes, other drugs and other providers. If the government gets over those hurdles, it must show under Michigan law that the drug was a substantial factor in the woman's death. In addition, even if the accused is guilty of providing the drugs, that does not mean that he acted with criminal intent to bring about the woman's death. An experienced defense counsel will know how to handle the complex web of evidence and criminal intent issues that comprise such prosecutions. 

Source: freep.com, "Detroit man arrested in overdose death of West Bloomfield woman", Perry A. Farrell, Aug. 23, 2017

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