Two area men now face homicide charges for their role in a 2017 heroin overdose death at a nondescript Pierce County house. But in their zeal to catch the bad guys, officers may have crossed the line and given a St. Paul criminal defense attorney an opening.
In May 2017, officers found Patrick Pace dead in his Church Street home. Pace was lying next to a packet of heroin. A subsequent investigation led officers to 28-year-old Dante Ackerman, of Lakeland. Ackerman, who was already on the DEA’s radar, was supposedly in the house with Pace on the night he died. Federal agents believed that 31-year-old Orlando Eaton, of St. Paul, was Ackerman’s partner. Cellphone analysis produced a number of incriminating text messages among these three men. Investigators also reviewed cellphone GPS locators to determine who was where and when they were there.
The texts included messages from Ackerman, indicating that his “best friend Pat O.D.’d” and there was “no phone in a basement where I coildnt [sic] lift him or get him to where I could get an ambulance.”
Until fairly recently, law enforcement did not consider drug overdoses as criminal matters unless there was some evidence of foul play. But the immense number of drug overdose deaths in the United States (72,000 in 2017) has created pressure for law enforcement to “do something” about these incidents. So, in Minnesota, peace officers and county prosecutors have begun investigating and prosecuting crimes under the state’s heretofore little used third-degree murder law.
Some people call Section 601.195 the Len Bias law. In the early 1980s, many people compared this basketball standout to Michael Jordan. Bias died of a cocaine overdose in 1986 shortly after the Boston Celtics selected him in the first round of the NBA draft.
Minnesota’s third-degree murder law does not have a malicious intent element. It applies to anyone who “proximately causes the death of a human being by, directly or indirectly, unlawfully selling, giving away, bartering, delivering, exchanging, distributing, or administering a controlled substance classified in Schedule I or II.” Narcotics like cocaine and crack are generally Schedule I drugs; opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers are usually Schedule II drugs. This offense is punishable by a maximum twenty-five years in prison and/or a $40,000 fine.
Lawmakers meant for this law to be a tool against drug dealers. The addition to the third-degree murder law kept these evildoers from pleading ignorance (e.g. “I only told him/her where to get the drugs”). But this broad law could also apply to anyone in the supply chain, along with anyone who happened to be in the house at the time of death.
In other situations, the state never really intends to file charges. Instead, Ramsey County prosecutors use this law as leverage against defendants. Attorneys threaten to file third-degree murder charges against people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time if they do not name names. If prosecutors try such strong-arm techniques, you definitely need a St. Paul criminal defense attorney in your corner.
Many times, overdose deaths involve prescription drug fraud charges against the people who acquired the drugs. These crimes include:
So, if there is an overdose at a party, even if the victim does not die, prosecutors could still file criminal charges. Prescription drug fraud is generally a felony.
Minnesota’s broad forfeiture law may come into play here as well. This law usually applies to any property that was used in any way in the commission of any crime, or resulted from the commission of a crime. That includes things like money, cars, and houses.
Even if a St. Paul criminal defense attorney beats the underlying charges in court, the forfeiture law may still apply. Generally, prosecutors only have to establish probable cause. However, if there is a defense, like the one outlined below, it’s easier to successfully resolve forfeiture matters.
The smartphone era, which began in 2007, has changed our lives a lot over the past decades. Smartphones have also changed the way we communicate with each other and store information. In fact, if you are anything like the St. Paul criminal defense attorneys in our office, your life may be on your cellphone.
Sometimes, it takes the law a while to catch up with technology. Despite the near-universal presence of smartphones and the thorny privacy questions they present, the Supreme Court did not rule on this issue until 2014. In Riley v. California, the Justices unanimously ruled that police officers need search warrants to look at anything beyond a smartphone’s home screen. If they do not have such authorization, a recognized search warrant exception, such as consent, must apply.
If officers reviewed text messages without a warrant, and if no exception applied, anything those text messages generated were fruit of the poisonous tree and therefore inadmissible.
If you are facing drug-related criminal charges, the consequences could be incredibly severe. For a free consultation with an experienced St. Paul criminal defense attorney, go online now, call us at (651) 998-7634, or stop by 287 6th St E, Suite 20, St Paul, MN 55101.