Who Is Responsible for the Death of Philip Seymour Hoffman?

Philip_Seymour_Hoffman_2011 (1)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.

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  1. Ross Jurewitz says

    Mitch, Hoffman’s addiction to heroin is long and well-known. This was a tragedy waiting to happen. You can include all of his support system and enablers in Hollywood for allowing him to repeatedly make this bad decision for years.

    • says

      Ross- I understand what you’re saying but I’d rather focus on the guys and gals who actually pulled the trigger– the drug dealers who sold the heroin to Seymour. The enablers will have to live with the decisions they made and any failure to take action and help. Agree that it was an avoidable death.

  2. I_Broke_Your_Ban_Hammer says

    Do we jail the suppliers in the deaths related to alcohol? No? Surely they bear responsibility?

    The blood of illicit drug deaths is on the hands of the dinosaurs that continue the failed prohibition of these drugs. Prohibition creates a supply of unknown composition, potency, and purity. It’s one of the dozens of reasons that prohibition is an unmitigated disaster.

    Alcohol maims and kills more than all of the heroin and cocaine in the world. The double standard is illogical.

    • says

      Appreciate your thoughts. The fact is that alcohol and illegal drugs both result in injury and death. Even legal drugs cause death.

      In the US, drinking, driving and killing has consequences. A bar owner or private individual providing an excessive amount of alcohol to a known intoxicated patron can be held liable, in many states, for harm caused to others. The Dram Shop laws are evolving to more of a common sense type of approach.

      But that’s not the issue. Nor is the difference in numbers. Both harm. The question is what do we do about it? I’m not against regulation. I’m also in favor of education vs jail. Here in CA drug court and alcohol court work very well. Education is key.

      Now that we know the facts, I think big tobacco should be held liable for selling a dangerous product. It just shouldn’t be allowed. Despite the regulation, they are killing people. Holding people and companies criminally and civilly liable forces desired conduct.

      Now back to the issue. Should these drug dealers be held accountable for harm caused to others or, do we turn the other way and and do nothing?

      • I_Broke_Your_Ban_Hammer says

        Regarding your last paragraph…

        We spend billions on enforcing drug laws and comparatively, virtually nothing on education. And when we do educate we often lie, most glaringly with regards to marijuana.

        We’ve been half-heartedly trying to prosecute and incarcerate our way out of our nation’s insatiable appetite for illegal drugs for more than half a century.

        And, what have we accomplished?

        Illicit drugs are cheaper, stronger, and more readily available today than they’ve ever been.


        Now, I’m not so naive to believe for a second that we’ll ever admit to the abject failure of drug policy. But, that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

        In short, we can’t police our way out of this. Period.

      • ddc says

        The difference is SO many people can drink a bit and not kill themselves. The majority of people have a drink or two or even three, but it is not lethal at that point. Heroin is a different story. In a wine bottle I know I am getting 14% alcohol. But with heroin, if laced with fentanyl you have no idea, and, one use takes the user into another world completely. Much more addictive.

  3. Randall Alexander says

    I think if one can be inconclusively linked to the other (dealer to user) then maybe manslaughter or 2nd degree, don’t know would need to research more to develop a more informed opinion. Carrol O’Conner tried that years ago I believe and failed.

    Ultimately, the trigger is pulled by the user. The first thing I did was show both of my boys pictures of Hoffman online from
    Hunger Games, and then I showed them pictures of Heath Ledger from Batman, The Four Feathers and The Patriot so they can establish who the person is. I asked them if they liked their performances, …establishing a relationship as best you can with an onscreen character.

    Then I explained….”These men had everything going for them, maybe they became addicts which some people empathize with, but it all started when they initially chose to start using drugs before they ever became a self destructive addict.

    Choose wisely!”

    • says

      Randall, I like the way you shared and discussed this with your boys. Smart man. Have you seen the movie Overtaken (posted here at the blog). Great video to watch with the kids at maybe age 12 and on.

      The trigger was pulled by Hoffman but the weapon was never legal, regulated or approved in any way, shape or form. It was illegal from the start and I think a better analogy might be handing someone a hand grenade without the pin.

      Tough situation all the way around. BTW, if this dealer tried to hand this stuff to your kids, would you be OK with that? I already know the answer but that’s what makes this such an difficult issue.

      Appreciate your input and feedback. Good stuff!

      • Randall Alexander says

        As much as I hate to say it Mitch, if someone harmed my family, the Marine in me would not wait for the justice system.

        Great discussion. I can only imagine how Carroll O’Conner felt. O’Connor stated,””These dealers, they kill people. They make a living giving people the means to kill themselves. He has been as responsible for Hugh’s death as anyone on Earth,” he said of Perzigian.””


        • says

          I know exactly how you feel. Thanks to your comment, I’m going to research and do a post on the O’Conner case. Hope all is well and sincerely appreciate your participation :-)

  4. Guest says

    NBC news: “The Oscar-winning actor, 46, was discovered dead in a New York City
    apartment just after 11:30 a.m. Sunday, with a syringe still in his arm,
    authorities said. Law enforcement officials told NBC News that
    authorities at the scene found 49 full bags of heroin, 23 empty bags of
    heroin, four bags of white powder believed to be cocaine, as well as
    various prescription drugs. ”


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