ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Court of Appeals is pondering whether a person who sells drugs to someone who ends up dead of an overdose should be held responsible to some extent for that death.
On Wednesday, the three-judge appeals court returned the case of Shaun Whitesides to a Ketchikan judge with instructions to collect more information and send it back to them.
At issue is Whitesides' sentence for selling heroin, which included three years of suspended time tacked onto the required five-year prison term for the death of her customer.
On July 11, 2000, Ketchikan police found Robert Glenn dead of a heroin overdose. Ten days later, Whitesides admitted to police that she sold Glenn a gram of heroin for $150. A jury eventually convicted her of felony misconduct involving a controlled substance.
No one suggested Whitesides was criminally responsible for Glenn's death. He took the drug himself, and she apparently wasn't there when he did it.
But Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens concluded that Glenn died as "a direct result" of her conduct and increased her sentence by adding the three suspended years.
Stephens also sentenced Whitesides to two years, with 1 1/2 years suspended, for possession of methamphetamine.
Suspended time is held over the head of a convict after release from prison to encourage compliance with probation conditions. If found violating probation, a defendant can be returned to prison to serve the suspended time.
Alaska sentencing law allows required sentences to be increased or decreased if a judge finds "aggravators" or "mitigators." The aggravator the judge found says a more severe punishment is warranted if "a person, other than an accomplice, sustained physical injury as a direct result of the defendant's conduct."
Case law around the country is divided on this issue, the court said. It instructed Stephens to either change Whitesides' sentence or get more substantial legal arguments from the lawyers involved and send back a written decision.