Should Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Dealer Be Charged with Murder?

Ashleigh Banfield thinks Philip Seymour Hoffman’s dealer should be prosecuted for murder. And you thought Law & Order‘s Jack McCoy was just a TV character.

From the Huffington Post:

Banfield argued on “Legal View” Monday that Hoffman’s drug dealer had to be a “sick man” to give him the drug that reportedly led to his death, and said that he should be charged with “felony murder.”

“I will never leave this without saying that the guy who gave an addict the drug that killed him deserves to go away for life,” she said. “The poor user can’t help it at this point!”

Banfield’s guest, lawyer Alan Dershowitz, insisted that it would be “absurd” and “foolish” to convict the dealer of a felony.

“Here you have a man who was addicted, who went out and got the drugs from somebody. That somebody didn’t want him to die,” Dershowitz said.

“That someone didn’t care,” Banfield fired back. “If they’re dealing in heroin, they don’t care.”

Police did find as many as 50 bags of heroin along with several syringes in Hoffman’s Manhattan apartment, which is mind-boggling whether you’re familiar with addiction or not.

For me personally, Banfield’s comments are almost comically ironic: I used to be her producer, back in 2001-2002, and what led me to her and MSNBC in the aftermath of 9/11 was an addiction to heroin. I had been using for months and finally realized that I was headed toward death, so I entered rehab in Miami in August of 2001 and got out just two weeks before the attacks. On September 11th, I had no job and no real moorings in life to speak of, so I made the decision to drive to New York City and go to work for MSNBC. This isn’t to say that there’s an upside to addiction because it can be a catalyst for something better, because that’s an insane way of thinking about it. But that was what happened to me. Doesn’t make me glad I did heroin because it’s the kind of thing you’re never completely free of, as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death proves.

To Ashleigh’s point, though — when I was getting high, I felt like those dealers were the best people I knew. Contrary to the stereotype of the villainous drug dealer standing in the shadows dispensing death one drop at a time, the guys I dealt with were, for the most part, friendly, good-natured, always willing to talk for a bit if I was so inclined. I’m sure that the amount of money I was handing them daily probably bought me a little conversation, but when you’re completely obliterated you don’t realize that. What I’m trying to say is, what dealers do is illegal and often reprehensible, but they’re not the ones shooting the shit they sell you into your arm or putting it up your nose or burning it on a piece of aluminum foil. Unless there are aggravating circumstances, the idea of charging someone with murder who’s basically catering to a clientele that’s often demanding what he or she is selling is ludicrous.

Cigarette manufacturers for years covered up the dangers of their product and the reality of its addictiveness; that’s why an argument could be made that they were culpable in the deaths of those who smoked. But nobody who buys heroin thinks they’re getting a little bag of sunshine. They know the risks starting out, even though there does come a point where those risks — and everything else — don’t matter anymore. Once you’re addicted to a substance, you’re sunk. But it’s then up to the addict to do whatever he or she can — hopefully with the help of people who care about him or her — to stop doing drugs. If you’re a cocaine addict, sure you can put super glue in your nose, but it won’t stop the actual addiction at the source. Neither will charging drug dealers with murder.

Although depraved indifference, I don’t know — maybe that’s another story. There’s no doubt that the person or persons who sold 50 bags of heroin to Philip Seymour Hoffman didn’t care about him the least. To them he was just another loyal customer. Same as I was to my dealers, no matter how nice they seemed at the time.

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    • Robert Scalzi

      Simply put – FUCK NO

    • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

      Unless someone else shot him up, Philip Seymour Hoffman alone is responsible for his own death.

      FWIW, nobody makes you buy drugs……….it is your choice, even if you’re addicted and feel that you have to make a buy in order to satisfy the addiction that was enabled by the dealers. I also don’t think an adult can reasonably say that the dealer was at fault for your addiction–it is a choice that the user makes, not the dealer, who is, after all, only the provider.

    • Sean Richardson

      “Should Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Dealer Be Charged with Murder?”

      No.

    • David L.

      No, he shouldn’t be charged with murder. Maybe you could make the case that if the dope was cut with tons of maltose, lidocaine, mannitol, quinine or strychnine, and the OD a result of intoxication from these chemicals, the dealer has a big chunk of responsibility. The thing is, a guy with Hoffman’s income probably got one of the purest types of H available in the high-end Manhattan market. The question is, if heroin sale were legal and controlled (as it was until 1924), would a pharmacist have sold 50 bags of the stuff to a patient / addict? Probably not, since that pharmacist would have a lot of explaining to do, not just to the regulatory agencies but probably to law enforcement. As usual, it boils down to the absolutely inevitable existence of a black market in a world of useless and completely ineffective repressive-prohibitionist laws, where you only have the dealer’s word that the substance is what he says it is, as they usually don’t stick labels on bags of adulterated diamorphine detailing all the ingredients thrown in for profit.

    • missliberties

      Fuck, it’s not the dealers fault if you OD. For christ sake.

      There is nothing that will prevent some people from drinking too much, smoking too much or using too much. It’s freakin human nature.

      That’s like blaming a doctor who prescribes pain medication if his patient decides to take the whole bottle.

      Or how about getting rid of sleeping medications, just in case, someone is trying to OD intentionally.

      People are human. People are sad. People are addicts. Some people OD.

      • Frederic Poag

        While I don’t agree with Ashley there’s a bit of legal justification on her side. Felony Murder is a no go, but if you run a bar you’re not allowed, by law, to keep serving someone drinks until they die of alcohol poisoning. Once they’re intoxicated you’re supposed to cut them off. Doesn’t matter if they want more, doesn’t matter if they have the money. You’re not even supposed to let them stay in the bar, and you have to take reasonable steps to see that they leave safely: i.e. call them a cab, make sure they’re leaving with someone who isn’t drunk, etc.

        • Sean Richardson

          Yeah, but if you sell somebody ten bottles of liquor and then they drink them all in one night and die, nobody from the liquor store goes to jail.

          • Nextplease

            true dat!

    • olcurmudgeon

      Anheuser Busch doesnt care about you in the least. Mcdonalds either.
      Should we allow people to sue them for the deaths of all that have had heart attacks? All who have ever driven drunk?
      Its a ridiculous premise.

      “but when you’re completely obliterated you don’t realize that.”

      and who initiated your obliteration? You did.
      there was a point when you were not obliterated and you made the choice to use and allow yourself to be held hostage to an addiction. (I call bullshit on anyone who claims they had no idea heroin was so addictive)
      What you put in your body is YOUR business, its also YOUR responsibility even when the results are horrific.

      • David L.

        Try explaining to the 11-year-old stoned-out kids in Siberia that they have made a conscious choice to allow themselves to be held hostage to an addiction. I agree that what you put in your body is your business, but a substance like heroin is hardly comparable to a McCrapburger or a six-pack of Buds. There are tons of heroin consumers who started out as pre-teens or teenagers, which is not an age range known for the maturity and rationality of its members, and tons of others who resort to the drug (among a huge variety of other available pharmakons, like alcohol) to evade the misery of poverty, homelessness or severe depression, for example. There are people who use it for a recreational purpose, and some get hooked for life and some don’t, some manage to overcome a personal addiction and never touch the stuff again. What I’m saying is that heroin consumers are as socially diverse as society itself, and you can’t always reduce it to a “free choice” made by people just to initiate their obliteration.

        On the other hand, heroin is a powerful chemical narcotic, and in a healthy society, it wouldn’t ever come near kids. Heroin was legal in the U.S. until 1924. Up until that point, the concept of ‘junkie’ didn’t even exist, and heroin was regulated and sold in pharmacies (drug stores) along cocaine, codein, morphine, etc. It was basically an upper-middle class drug of choice and had no stigma attached to its consumption. Fast forward to NYC in the 1970s and you’ve got a major public health epidemic, with heroin being associated with the working class, with African-Americans, with Vietnam veterans and all the other assorted marginalized subsets of society. It isn’t a coincidence. Nixon’s idiotic War on Drugs, plus all the frothing “freedom-loving” right wingers willing to exploit the tragedy of the daily deaths of youths all over the country to further their racist class warfare and reactionary, jingoistic war-monging resulted in the widespread distribution of extremely adulterated batches of dope which exponentially elevated the number of heroin-related deaths.

        So while I agree with your point that the dealers aren’t mainly responsible for their client’s use (although the reality of very young kids hooked on H would be impossible without their scumbag dealers), I’m afraid I have to disagree on blaming the consumer entirely. It’s not as easy as deciding to eat Lucky Charms one day instead of healthy Corn Flakes or Muesli. There’s a huge sociological aspect that’s an extremely important factor (I find that a show like The Wire illustrates that problem very well). In any case, I’ve never tried a speck of heroin and in all probability never will, so I can only talk from what I’ve seen in others and read in books. Maybe I’m completely wrong, I can’t say from experience.

        • Sean Richardson

          I think you make a good point, but I don’t see what it has to do with Philip Seymour Hoffman, who as an adult made the decision to start, then stop, then start again.

    • Thommy Berlin

      Should we charge the corrupt government officials without whom the black market couldn’t exist?

    • SqueekyChin

      We totally need more drug laws because we don’t have enough low level drug dealers in prisons and it will help so much.