Sometimes, the legislature passes a law so breathtakingly goofy, so incredibly weird, that any issue of its constitutionality pales by comparison.
Sometimes, the legislature passes a law so breathtakingly goofy, so incredibly weird, that any issue of its constitutionality pales by comparison. With this column, I am establishing the Kennedy Kudos Trophy for Loopy Legislation, to be awarded this year to the intrepid drug warriors who have given us the "Drug Dealer Liability Act of 1997."
Before passage of this bill, people harmed by drugs had two options: they could file criminal charges against drug dealers and others violating the law, or they could sue the miscreant whose behavior had harmed them for civil damages. Now we have what our Attorney General has called (with a straight face) "an important new tool" in our neverending war on drugs. Now, if we suffer harm, we can bring a civil action against any drug dealer in our area. If my child is injured or dies from a drug overdose, for example, I no longer have to find the person who supplied the drug to my child. I can sue anyone in the designated geographic area I believe is trafficking in the drug.
Leaving aside some fascinating questions of practicality (how do we find these unrelated dealers? In the yellow pages? And if we find them and sue, how do we get their money? By garnisheeing their wages?), the logic of this law is truly awe-inspiring. Perhaps it should be extended to other social harms.
I happen to believe that automobiles are inherently dangerous; they spew noxious fumes, they enrage people caught in traffic jams; hurt people they run over. Operating a car too fast or without a proper license is already an illegal activity. Using the logic of the "Drug Dealer" bill, if my child is run over by a speeding car, I should be able to sue anyone who has a car and speeds. To do otherwise would be to condone speeding.
The Attorney General promises that passage of this law will strike fear into the hearts of drug dealers and cause them to mend their ways. Give me a break. These are people who already ignore the prospects of lengthy jail sentences, civil forfeiture, and other severe penalties. The people who should fear this law are those who may be wrongly suspected of drug activities, who would have to hire lawyers and defend against misplaced (or malicious) lawsuits.
There is, of course, the additional issue of constitutionality. In the American legal system, we generally require proof that a particular defendant is responsible for a particular harm before we find that defendant criminally or civilly liable. Whether the constitutional issue will ever be litigated, however, depends upon whether anyone tries to use this silly law which now joins so many others cluttering our statute books and encouraging contempt for the legal system.