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A Philadelphia man was recently extradited to North Carolina to stand trial for sending heroin through the mail to an NC woman. But the most serious charge he faces isn’t for drug dealing—it’s for second-degree murder.

Sean Michael Harrington is a 25-year-old man from Pennsylvania. In late August he was arrested for his role in the fatal overdose of Elisif Bruun, a 24-year-old addict who was staying at a recovery center at the time of her death.

Bruun’s autopsy found heroin and cocaine in her system. An investigation following Bruun’s death found the drugs had been shipped through the mail, and tracked the package back to Harrington in Philadelphia. Harrington had never been to Polk County before his extradition.

According to his arrest warrant, Harrington faces felony charges of second-degree murder from drug distribution, two counts of selling/delivering schedule I controlled substances, and one count of selling/delivering a schedule II controlled substance.

“If We Can Prosecute You, We are Going to Prosecute You to the Max.”

Greensboro Drug Trafficking Attorney

Though Harrington’s case is unique for geographical reasons, the severe charges he faces are not. In response to the growing heroin epidemic in the US, prosecutors are seeking harsher punishments for dealers and traffickers.

Under North Carolina law, dealers can face murder charges for selling drugs that lead to an overdose. Statute § 14-17 defines murder charges. The description of second degree murder states that the charge can be applied to “the unlawful distribution of opium or any synthetic or natural salt, compound, derivative, or preparation of opium, or cocaine or other substance described in G.S. 90-90(1)d., or methamphetamine, and the ingestion of such substance caused the death of the user.”

Before the latest spike in opiate addiction, it was rare that a murder charge was ever used on a low-level drug dealer. But across the country, there is a growing number of heroin and opiate dealers facing murder charges.

Prosecutors and law enforcement officials have been very outspoken in the media, stating they fully intend to seek the harshest charges available for dealers and traffickers. Greg Newman, the North Carolina DA who is prosecuting Harrington’s case, recently outlined his view on the charges to Vice.

“My philosophy is if you’re going to be out peddling the drugs, you’re going to have be accountable to what happens on the receiving end of those narcotics,” says Newman. “If you give the narcotics to someone, or you sell them to someone, and they end up dead… well, you got to be responsible for that too.”

Polk County Sheriff Donald Hill echoed the sentiment to the Tyron Daily Bulletin. Hill sent a warning to drug dealers who sold to users in his county: “We will find you… If we can prosecute you, we are going to prosecute you to the max.”

But many question the wisdom of incarcerating small-time dealers who, like Harrington himself, are addicts as well.

“This is a reflection of a broader tendency of prosecutors in all capacities to identify what they perceive as a serious crime problem, and come up with creative ways that go beyond their basic standard approach,” Douglas A. Berman, an expert on criminal law and sentencing told Vice. “Has this become just a new tool, and one that they’ll use every time they can link a death to a particular dealer?”

If you have been arrested for a drug trafficking charge in North Carolina, make sure you do everything possible to protect your rights. Get in touch with an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

About the Author

Attorney Mike Schlosser represents victims of personal injury, those charged with a crime, as well as those facing traffic charges. A former Guilford County, North Carolina District Attorney, Schlosser has been in private practice at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett since 1983 and has been a member of the North Carolina State Bar since 1973..

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