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Heroin, Hoffman and Criminal Responsibility

Another tortured celebrity has succumbed to the effects of his addition.  Seymour Philip Hoffman made choices, ones harmful to himself and the children left in his wake.  Truly addiction is a disease and each day many people outside of the public eye give in to their demons. Recovering addicts are never free of the pull from their drugs of choice.  At some point the physical and mental demands of the drug rob them of free will. Some have the strength or support to fight through it. The battle requires great effort and a system that provides not only the impetus but the facility for rehabilitation.  Hoffman could clearly afford the most expensive rehabilitative care; most addicts cannot. They languish in the streets eventually succumbing to their disease with no cavalcade of stars to mourn them.

Amid the photos that appeared online as this story gained momentum was the anguished face of Juliana Luchkiw, a 22 year old student arrested for misdemeanor drug charges but originally ordered held without bail. She and her live-in boyfriend were reportedly neighbors of Robert Vineberg, who was charged with possession of narcotics with the intent to sell. Reports claim that Vineberg had some association with Hoffman. He has not been charged in the actor’s death and his lawyer has vehemently denied that Vineberg had any association with the drugs Hoffman is believed to have injected. It appears that NY authorities want to try to tie Vineberg into the heroin that purportedly killed Hoffman.

If Hoffman was some street junkie there would have been little newsworthy in his death. There would probably have been even less interest in expending strained police resources to locate a drug dealer who may have sold the lethal dose. But Hoffman was a talented actor and there appears to be a need to hold someone other than the troubled performer responsible for the death.

The fact is that those who provide the mechanism of a drug induced death are exposed to prosecution for homicide. Our statute charging Manslaughter in the first degree has been broadly construed to permit prosecution of drug dealers directly linked to providing a lethal dose to a dead addict. The statute, Sec. 53a-55(a)(3) reads in part, “A person is guilty of manslaughter in the first degree “. . . under circumstances evincing an extreme indifference to human life, he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes the death of another person.” In 1995 our Supreme Court decided the case of State v. Wassil, for the following charge, that he ” . . .had committed the crime of manslaughter in the first degree in violation of § 53a-55 in that he had, ‘under circumstances evincing an extreme indifference to human life, recklessly engaged in conduct [that] created a grave risk of death to David Groleau, to wit: the delivery of a narcotic substance to said David Groleau and assisting said David Groleau in administering that narcotic substance to himself, thereby causing the death of said David Groleau . . . .”Wassil did not administer the drugs to the decedent, Groleau, but rather first injected himself and then gave the heroin to Groleau but did not administer the injection to him. The reasoning of the court was that those actions constituted extreme indifference to human life and the conviction for the Class B felony was affirmed.

Other such prosecutions have also succeeded. If NY can prove that the heroin that was found in Hoffman’s possession originated with Vineberg then he is exposed to conviction. irrespective of the voluntary actions by Hoffman injecting himself.

Rich Meehan