An anti-ecstasy (MDMA) law passed last year to crack down on drug sellers is now being used to lodge drug-induced homicide charges against friends who get high together. Under the law, if someone dies "as a result of" taking illegal drugs, anyone who helps in any way to obtain any amount of those drugs can be so charged. The charge is a Class X felony, with a mandatory minimum six-year sentence and a possible sentence of up to 30 years. Last month, prosecutors in suburban Chicago's Lake County charged three young Wauconda men with drug-induced homicide after their friend died from cocaine and alcohol use at a party in his apartment. The three men all chipped in to buy cocaine, and the dead man, Kenneth Willand, snorted some of his own free will.
Although Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller described the incident as "a casual deal among acquaintances and friends," he vowed to prosecute anyway. "That's enough under the law," he told the suburban Daily Herald. "We're dealing with a recently amended law that deals with some harsh -- some very harsh -- consequences, but the purpose is to deter drug use."
One of the law's cosponsors, state Rep. Suzanne Bassi (R-Palatine), expressed surprise at the prosecution, but didn't criticize it. "The idea was to go after club-drug dealers," she told the Daily Herald. "I hope Waller is looking at the spirit as well as the letter of the law. But maybe we need to really send that message -- even louder -- that these drugs are lethal."
But if Bassi is alright with the prosecution, it isn't sitting so well with defense attorneys and civil libertarians. Jim Reddy, chief of appeals for the Cook County (Chicago) public defender's office, said the law was unconstitutional because the punishment doesn't fit the crime. "It's preposterous," he said. "This is voluntary, taking drugs. If I give you a gun, and you shoot yourself, I didn't kill you," he told the newspaper.
Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the prosecution demonstrates that the law was too loosely written. "This is someone who fits the profile of literally millions of people across the country, and is it really the intent of the General Assembly to place all those people in jeopardy of being charged with a Class X felony?" he asked. "This is not what this law was touted to be. If this is the kind of people we intend to prosecute, then the General Assembly should have debated about this." There was no such debate on the expanded drug homicide provisions in the new law.