SANFORD, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - Investigators and prosecutors in Seminole County are taking a tougher stand against people who sell drugs, charging some with murder.
In the past nine months, the State Attorney’s Office in Seminole County has charged three accused heroin dealers with murder, after their alleged buyers died of overdoses.
Assistant prosecutor Dan Faggard told FOX 35, previously, most overdose deaths went uninvestigated.
“It was just simply an unfortunate event where someone overdosed and died. And so nothing was happening. And that’s part of the problem,” Faggard said.
Faggard said investigators—who had been noticing an increase in heroin-related deaths—talked to the state attorney’s office about approaching deadly overdoses another way.
“We had officers and deputies who were kind of seeing that we could nab the drug dealers,” he said.
Florida statute says prosecutors can charge a suspect with murder when a death results from the distribution of a controlled substance, such as opium, which is a main ingredient in heroin.
The statute has been on the books for years, but Faggard said, until Central Florida’s heroin epidemic exploded, prosecutors didn’t have many cases where the charge fit.
“It really wasn’t that useful not too long ago because our heroin problem here in central Florida is kind of a recent thing,” he said.
In 2015, the most recent year where data was available, the medical examiner reported 19 heroin deaths, according to a report by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission. In 2012, there was only one.
Faggard said it takes a lengthy investigation and the kind of attention most police departments don’t pay overdose cases in order to charge a drug dealer with murder, but with three cases in a matter of months and two more under investigation, it’s worth it.
“If I’m a drug dealer and I know that for every sale that I make there’s a possibility that I can go to prison for life if this person dies, maybe I’ll think twice,” he said.