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Stakes of drug dealing raised higher in Maryland

Maryland appears set to treat some drug crimes much more harshly than it has in decades. The state’s highest court and Maryland’s lead lawyer have now cleared the way for charging people with homicide if they sell drugs that later play a role in someone’s death.

The change is controversial politically and legally, and even more so among many public policy experts who fear the change is a step backwards if fewer drugs and deaths on the streets are among the state’s goals.

Court approves manslaughter conviction after drug sale

Maryland now has much clearer legal permission to charge drug sellers with manslaughter, murder and other crimes involving the deaths of others.

The fateful case started in 2015. A Worcester County man with an addiction to drugs also had a habit selling a small part of his personal supply. When one of his buyers died of an overdose, the man was charged with manslaughter.

Every day, the seller himself used three times the amount he sold to his customer. The customer died after also consuming alcohol and a powerful prescription painkiller stolen from his mother, but the dealer was charged with homicide.

The state’s power to file the charge was clarified some weeks ago when, by a one-vote majority, Maryland’s Court of Appeals overruled a lower court that had invalidated the dealer’s manslaughter conviction.

Maryland’s Attorney General urges more murder charges

Maryland’s chief legal advisor and prosecutor, Attorney General Brian Frosh, announced he wants more drug dealers charged with homicide when someone dies of an overdose. Such charges, he said, should be filed only when the drugs are sold "in a way that’s grossly negligent.” Some observers wondered what constitutes a careful and attentive drug deal.

Because the precedent was set when the fault of the dealer wasn’t simple, there’s concern about the validity of future convictions. The stakes in Maryland have just gotten higher, and the coming months and years will reveal the importance of experienced and dedicated counsel working closely with clients to argue the facts of the case and their applicability to case law.

Perhaps even more importantly for Maryland, the mass arrests of small-time violators in decades past sometimes led to more crime and death instead of less, partly because the ultimate sources of the drugs were often untouched. For example, it’s unclear from news accounts where the Worcester County dealer got his supply.

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