An unusual and rarely used federal statute has been revived against two men who live about 45 miles outside of Pittsburgh. Federal prosecutors say the men caused a man to fatally overdose on heroin by selling him the drug. If convicted under the federal statute, the defendants could be sentenced to life in prison.
The federal law allows prosecutors to seek charges when alleged drug trafficking leads to a death by overdose. Authorities claim that the defendants, both 28 and residents of another state, purchased a quantity of heroin in March 2011 and sold it to a 22-year-old man in exchange for jewelry and gold.
The 22-year-old later died of a drug overdose. The local U.S. attorney's office claims that the man overdosed on the heroin sold to him by the defendants.
The statute providing for a life sentence for a drug sale that causes a fatal overdose has not been used by U.S. attorneys in Western Pennsylvania in more than 10 years. The last case to include the unusual charge was in 2002. Two brothers were charged in the death of a woman in 2000. The woman reportedly used heroin provided to her by the defendants in that case and died in front of them. The brothers buried the woman's body in their mother's yard, authorities say. They later pleaded guilty.
It may seem strange to some readers that someone can be blamed for the drug overdose of another person when he or she did not directly cause the death. The statute is part of the government's continued aggressive push for drug convictions in Pittsburgh and across the U.S.
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "2 West Virginia men charged in heroin death," Torsten Ove, Feb. 12, 2013
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