Charge drug dealers with manslaughter? Not so easy

Published: Aug. 16, 2023 at 5:10 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - When someone dies of a drug overdose, should their dealer be charged with manslaughter?

The idea sounds like a no-brainer. But it’s harder to do than you would think.

A 17 year old was charged with manslaughter in July, in connection with a Rochester-area overdose. So it can be done.

However, a set of strict legal guidelines stand between drug dealers and stricter charges, and there’s no sign they’ll be changing.

“It is very frustrating especially when we have so many overdose deaths. It is very frustrating not to be able to do anything about it,” said Kristyna Mills, Jefferson County District Attorney.

In order to charge drug dealers with something as severe as manslaughter, Mills says there has to be a rock solid case, and there’s some factors that are hard to prove.

“You have to be able to prove that that drug dealer knew or should have known that there was something more deadly about what they were selling than it normally is,” said MIlls.

When dealers use their own product, or other customers survive, it becomes a lot harder to prove a crime like manslaughter - even when their products are laced with substances like fentanyl. That’s why the charges are so rare. That said, MIlls said she is trying for more serious charges when dealing with overdose deaths in Jefferson County.

“I would hope that going after for manslaughter charges would deter other dealers from at least selling stuff they know is particularly harmful. We also would like to get some justice for the families of the person that died,” Mills said.

Kathy Plante-Hunt and her husband Scott, of Watertown, are one of those families. Kathy lost her daughter to an overdose in 2021. Just recently the pair put up a billboard on Court Street, and now they’re hoping to see harsher punishments for drug dealers.

“We hope they’d start to think twice before selling anything else like that,” Scott Hunt said.

Kathy believes all overdose deaths should spark a criminal investigation.

“We need to start investigating the circumstances for each death. We owe it to these people,” she said.