Monday, May 02, 2005

"Murder by Drugs" Law Challenged

I know of several cases of people who died because they were given drugs without their knowledge, including Sara, Kyle and Hillory. None of their murderers were prosecuted, and now drug attorneys in Pennsylvania are attacking one of the laws that makes it possible to prosecute for "drug delivery resulting in death" crimes.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported yesterday on that the state's drug delivery resulting in death statute:

According to the statute, drug delivery resulting in death is third-degree murder. It carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

The law was enacted in 1989, but state Superior Court ruled that version unconstitutional in 1996 because it was too vague.

The Legislature returned with a new version in 1998, but that statute, too, has come under fire.

It is being challenged in the state Supreme Court as a result of a case from Allegheny County. Gregory D. Ludwig, of Rochester, was charged with drug delivery resulting in death in May 2001.

Ludwig sold Ecstasy to an acquaintance, who distributed it to her friends. One of them, Brandy French, 16, of Sewickley, took it at a rock concert and died the next day.

Patrick Thomassey, Ludwig's attorney, sees two problems with the charge against his client.

First, Ludwig didn't sell the Ecstasy to French. Second, there is no way the prosecution could prove malice, a required element of third-degree murder.

"You can't have a murder without malice," Thomassey said.

Malice, under law, is described as a "hardness of heart" and a complete disregard for differences between right and wrong.

"In a consensual drug transaction, there cannot be malice," Thomassey said.

Not true, countered John Burkhoff, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

"We don't have the defense of consent to homicide crimes," Burkhoff said. "That defense simply doesn't exist for homicide."

There's much more to the story, so read it all here.

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