Philip Seymour Hoffman was a talented actor. Our 14 year old son remembers Hoffman from the movie “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” I remember him from movies such as Charlie Wilson’s War and Capote. [“Philip Seymour Hoffman 2011” by Georges Biard. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]
According to published reports, Hoffman was found dead with a syringe in his arm while on the bathroom floor of his apartment. More than 50 glassine-type bags of heroin were found.
I didn’t know Hoffman had a drug problem. Many did but I guess I’m just not in the loop. I’m not really surprised but I am sad. He was an amazing actor and like others before him, his life tragically ended too soon.
I may not have been aware of the addiction daemons inside of Hoffman but I’ll tell you who was. The dealer or dealers who sold illegal drugs like Heroin to him.
This morning on my way into the office, I listened to lawyer Alan Dershowitz argue to a CNN reporter that the felony murder rule shouldn’t apply to hold the dealer or dealers who sold heroin to Hoffman responsible for murder. I’m not sure I agree with Dershowitz’s logic but I do think we need to find and hold drug dealers accountable for selling illegal and dangerous drugs to people.
If you’re not familiar with the felony murder rule, you can learn more here. It is also noted that in California, the common law felony murder rule has been codified in California Penal Code § 189.
In situations like this, I’m in favor of holding drug dealers accountable for injury or death resulting from the sale of illegal drugs. A very simple argument can and should be made that the illegal activity of selling illegal drugs to people of diminished capacity (an addict who isn’t thinking clearly) is the same as handing someone a hand grenade with the pin pulled. The end result is not going to be good and in some cases, may result in death.
Do I believe a user, like Hoffman, is accountable for his actions? Of course I do. Encouraging and even expecting personal responsibility and good choices by citizens is important to a stable and functioning society.
However, holding users like Hoffman accountable should not redirect responsibility away from drug dealers profiting from the sale of dangerous drugs. And when illegal drugs cause injury or death, the dealers should be held responsible in both the criminal and civil courts.
While each state is different when it comes to the laws and legal consequences of holding drug dealers legally liable, I’m not as much concerned with whether or not the “felony murder rule” applies as I am with crafting new laws specifically worded to hold drug dealers criminally and civilly responsible for injury or death. Many states have laws that allow prosecutors to charge dealers in cases like this but others do not. I don’t see why a clear and easy to understand law is not universally created, at the state or even the federal level, holding drug dealers accountable for the very real harm they cause society.
What do you think? Do you feel Hoffman is solely to blame for his death or should drug dealers bear some of the responsibility? I’m curious to hear your opinions so please share your thoughts in the comments below or with me on Twitter. More commentaries on current topics can be found at our Newsroom.