We’ve all seen the headlines and the statistics about drug overdoses in America. The CDC reports that over 100,000 people overdosed in 2021. In 2019, more than 10 million people reported addiction to opioids, and the numbers continue to climb. The US Department of Justice states that addicted offenders commit more than 37% of all crimes. In the criminal justice system, we see addiction and appropriate rehabilitation as significant in determining recidivism.

Addiction is a mitigating factor, but often it doesn’t hold enough weight by itself to gain a sentencing variance. Depending on the type of crime, it could be excluded as a mitigating factor. Juries and judges can sometimes see addiction as more of a personal choice than a treatable medical condition or disease. However, addiction, especially to opioids, is now seen as an epidemic and deadly.

If we look at addicted offenders compared to non-addicted offenders, the addicted are less likely to plan a crime meticulously. Their behavior is often impulsive, without regard for process or protocol. The addicted do not tend to be part of a more significant, more serious criminal venture or cartel because they can’t be trusted with large amounts of money or product. Additionally, the addicted don’t seem to be of sound mind or mental health, particularly if the addiction has been long-term. While the addicted do commit crimes, the opioid addict’s goal is to score their drug of choice. Crimes are a means to an end rather than crime for criminality’s sake.

When our team looks at addiction in an offender, we look for the starting age of abuse. The earlier the offender begins using drugs, the more likely the offender will be an addict as an adult. When we see children drinking alcohol and junior high kids using opiates, we can point to future addiction. The offender may never become an actual criminal, but the addict will commit crimes to feed the addiction.

This is where a lack of criminal record can come into play. An offender charged with a first or second offense is very different from an offender with a long criminal history. Addiction is a mitigating factor for offenders who began their substance use at an early age, played a minor role in the commission of the crime, and lack lengthy criminal histories.

Finally, victim culpability can play a role in sentencing. Many victims in overdose cases are polysubstance abusers, injecting or ingesting a wide variety of legal and illegal substances. Their overall general health may be compromised, contributing to their deaths. While never victim-blaming, the victim’s culpability in their death can be a factor to consider in fentanyl and opiate cases.

If you have an overdose case and need mitigation for addiction to obtain a lesser sentence for your client, please call the Downward Departure Specialists at 916-224-4680. We are experts and here to help.