Lawmakers Urge Passage of ‘Death by Dealer’ Statute

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy D. Sini

In the wake of six overdose deaths in Greenport earlier this month, a contingent of area lawmakers gathered on August 20 to call for consequences for drug dealers whose product kills.

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy D. Sini and New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky were joined by Senator Anthony Palumbo, Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and members of the Suffolk County Legislature to announce the introduction of a bill that would create a new section of felony crimes for dealers whose drug sales lead to overdose and death.

Dubbed the “death by dealer” statute, the addition to the New York State Penal Code would hold pushers accountable for overdose deaths caused by their lethal merchandise. The bill was introduced by Mr.. Kaminsky and co-sponsored by Mr. Palumbo in the Senate and introduced by Ms. Griffin and co-sponsored by Ms. Giglio and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. in the Assembly.

“We simply cannot allow drug dealers to continue killing our family members, loved ones, and neighbors,” Mr. Sini said in a release announcing the initiative. “It is a sick and depraved way of making money to sell drugs to people and play Russian roulette with their lives.”

It’s very simple, he said, if you sell drugs and cause death, you will be held responsible for that death.

According to Mr. Kaminsky, overdose deaths have increased dramatically, and when a dealer’s drugs precipitate a deadly overdose, the law carries no provisions for charging them with homicide or even manslaughter. He’s been shepherding legislation to address that since 2015, the senator said, opining, “When a drug dealer causes an overdose, he should end up in prison, period.”

“Enough is enough,” said Mr. Thiele. “I am terribly saddened by the recent fatal overdoses in our East End community. We need justice for overdose deaths now. We cannot stand by and allow yet another tragedy to occur in our communities before we take action.”

Fentanyl-laced cocaine led to the death of six North Fork residents earlier this month. Within days, police reported the arrest of two suspected drug dealers. Several other non-fatal overdoses were all linked to fentanyl-laced cocaine.

“For far too long, the current system has made it incredibly challenging to hold dangerous drug dealers who peddle lethal poison to our communities accountable,” Mr. Bellone said in a statement. “We need action now to help save lives. That is why I am calling on Albany to pass the ‘Death By Dealer’ statute to help provide closure for families and hold those who knowingly sell these dangerous drugs in our state accountable for the lives that they steal from our fellow New Yorkers.”

The proposed law would create a new statute for “Homicide due to Sale of a Controlled Substance in the First Degree.” A class A felony, it would carry a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison. The legislation also crafts the charge Homicide due to Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Second Degree, a class B felony.

Under the proposed law, an individual would be guilty of Homicide due to Sale of a Controlled Substance if he or she commits one of several enumerated offenses in connection with the sale of controlled substances and the person to whom the controlled substance was sold dies from using it.

Homicide due to Sale of a Controlled Substance charges will be upgraded to a class A felony if the drug is classified as a schedule II narcotic, an additional substance is added to enhance the effects, a dealer is aware that the user is under the influence of narcotics at the time of the sale, or if the dealer is aware that the user has participated in a rehabilitation program or has suffered an overdose within the last 30 days prior to the sale.

The proposed legislation also amends the current statute for Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree to lower the aggregate weight of narcotics necessary for that charge, and to add a minimum number of packages of narcotics required for the charge regardless of weight.

New York State Penal Law currently includes a statute for Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance to a Child; however, the proposed legislation would create two subsections for Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance to a Child in the First Degree, a class A-II felony, and Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance to a Child in the Second Degree, a class B felony. A person would be guilty of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance to a Child if he or she is over the age of 21 and knowingly and unlawfully sells a controlled substance to a person less than 18 years old.

Finally, the proposed legislation amends the Penal Law statute for Criminal Sale of a Prescription for a Controlled Substance to include the unlawful sale of electronic prescriptions or blank prescription forms by physicians or pharmacists.

“In light of the terrible loss of lives due to overdose this past week on the East End, as a former assistant district attorney and vice chair of the Public Safety Committee, I am grateful that District Attorney Tim Sini and his team have responded swiftly to hold responsible those who prey on our communities by peddling lethal fentanyl,” said County Legislator Bridget Fleming. “Swift and certain consequences for fentanyl dealers is critically important to stem the scourge of opiate addiction that has so gravely impacted Long Island families and the ‘death by dealer’ charge is an important tool in this fight.”

In 2016, the D.A.’s office became the first in the state to convict drug dealers of manslaughter in connection with overdose deaths.