Criminal Justice

Prosecuting Overdose Witnesses Debated

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A fatal drug overdose of a Greenwich, Conn., surgeon is calling attention to an issue that has long troubled prosecutors: whether to prosecute witnesses.

In the Greenwich case, Stamford, Conn., law enforcement officials debated whether to file charges against the surgeon’s friend for providing the drugs and failing to call 911 immediately, the Advocate reports.

They did, charging Leonard Bajramaj, 32, of Stamford, with first-degree manslaughter for reportedly providing plastic surgeon Ian Rubins with injectable drugs and failing to immediately call 911 when Rubins was in distress, the Post reports.

The larger issue is whether tough prosecutions deter witnesses from calling 911 in the moments after an overdose is discovered.

“When you prosecute someone, you send a chilling effect throughout the community,” Reena Szczepanski, director of the Drug Policy Alliance in New Mexico, is quoted saying.

The Advocate notes that the alliance pushed New Mexico to adopt the first law in the country that provides immunity for witnesses who call 911 to report an overdose. “We found that people were so afraid of being arrested they were actually just leaving (overdose victims) alone,” Szczepanski says.

But others argue that anyone associated with illegal drugs needs to be punished.

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