Pubdate: Mon, 16 May 2016
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2016 Sun-Times Media, LLC


For years in Illinois, it was extremely rare for anybody to be 
charged with murder for a drug-induced death, but times have changed.

Prosecutors across the nation have begun charging people with murder 
if they shared illegal drugs such as heroin with a friend or family 
member who died as a result.

Now there's a push to do the same in Illinois but, like the failed 
war on drugs, it risks making a bad situation worse. The more people 
are hesitant to call 911 in an overdose situation because they fear 
arrest, the more people will die.

Illinois would be wise to stick with its current policy, which is to 
target actual drug dealers in cases when somebody dies of an 
overdose- but not the other addicts in the room. That's the policy, 
shaped by real-world police experience, first supported by hard-nosed 
county prosecutors and approved by the Illinois General Assembly in 
2012. They did not want that emergency phone to stop ringing.

"If someone overdoses, we want to encourage the survivors to call 
911," Lake County State's Attorney Michael G. Nerheim told us.

Police in Lake County now carry naloxone, which can save the life of 
someone who has overdosed. Since December 2014, first responders have 
saved 75 lives in Lake County - without making any arrests on the 
scene, Nerheim said.

Since the 1980s, Illinois has criminalized drug-induced deaths as 
homicide. But to ensure the law does not result in deadly unintended 
consequences, the General Assembly in 2012 added a good samaritan 
law, which grants a level of immunity to people who dial 911 if they 
are with someone who needs medical help because of drug use.

Illinois was the fifth state to enact such a law, designed to 
encourage people to summon help without fear they'll be arrested.

For years in Illinois, it was extremely rare for anybody-professional 
drug dealer or fellow sad addict-to be charged with murder for a 
drug-induced death, but times have changed. In 2003, nobody was sent 
to prison on that charge. But in 2015, 13 people were.

In a Sunday "Watchdogs" report, Sun- Times reporter Mick Dumke and 
FrankMain cite several cases that, to our eyes, likely warranted the 
charge of murder.

There is, for example, Corey Crump, now 35, who was sentenced to 10 
years in prison for supplying fentanyl-laced heroin to the 17- 
yearold son of a Franklin Park deputy police chief. The teenager, 
Joseph Krecker, died in 2006. And there is Eric White, now 53, who 
was sentenced to seven years for selling a California man eight bags 
of heroin, via an intermediary. The 35- yearold buyer died in a 
downtown Chicago hotel room in 2005.

But Dumke and Main also tell the story of Adrianna Diana, 20, who 
shot up heroin with a friend, Christopher Houdek. Diana's aunt called 
911 the next day when Houdek was found unresponsive in her Carol 
Stream apartment. DuPage County prosecutors charged Diana, along with 
two drug dealers, with murder. While free on bail, Diana later 
overdosed on heroin and died as well.

There's an honest question, without being soft on crime, as to 
whether Diana should have been treated like a killer or an addict.

But so goes the trend. In Louisiana, according to the Washington 
Post, a man got a life sentence after the heroin he gave his fiancee 
to celebrate her 19th birthday killed her. Prosecutors in New Jersey, 
Tennessee, New Hampshire and West Virginia have brought murder 
charges in similar cases. Lawmakers in New York, Ohio and Virginia 
are pushing bills to allow murder charges after fatal drug overdoses.

In Illinois, most of the charges have been in the collar counties, 
but now the Chicago Police Department is considering expanding 
charges for drug-induced homicides.

Kathleen Kane- Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug 
Policy at Roosevelt University, said some prosecutors Downstate have 
used a loophole in the good samaritan law to charge people with 
aggravated battery after a drug death.

Heroin is a growing national scourge. It has been called an epidemic. 
There's a good argument that prosecutors in the past, even in 
Illinois, have not charged serious drug dealers with murder as often 
as they should. But it would be the height of folly to destroy the 
credibility of Illinois' good samaritan law in the process. We want 
those 911 calls. As Nerheim said, "We have a much better chance to 
save their lives if we can be there within minutes."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom