Wisconsin is seeing a significant increase in Len Bias homicide prosecutions in an effort to curb the delivery of opiate drugs and reduce overdose deaths. The name Len Bias prosecutions became common parlance after the famous college basketball prospect overdosed on cocaine and died two days after he was drafted 2nd overall by the Boston Celtics in 1986. Bias’s friend Brian Tribble was indicted for supplying Bias with the cocaine but was ultimately acquitted. In an effort to strengthen drug laws and hold suppliers of illegal substances more accountable, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988 .
The federal law created mandatory-minimum sentences in drug cases for first-time offenders. For 5 grams of crack and 500 grams of powder cocaine, there’s a 5-year mandatory sentence; for 50 grams of crack and 5 kilos of powder cocaine, there’s a 10-year mandatory sentence.
Many states followed Congress’s footsteps to strengthen their drug laws, including Wisconsin. 1987 Wisconsin Act 339 created Wisconsin Statute 940.02(2), a subsection of 1st degree Reckless Homicide. For the state to prove someone guilty of a Len Bias homicide, they must prove the following elements:
- The defendant delivered a substance;
- The substance was a controlled substance;
- The defendant knew or believed that the substance was the controlled substance; and
- The victim used the substance alleged to have been delivered by the defendant and died as a result of that use.
The substance in question must be a Schedule I or II controlled substance or controlled substance analog. Further, it is not necessary that the defendant directly delivered the substance to the decedent. If the substance was transferred more than one time, each person who distributes or delivers the substance can be found guilty.
If convicted of a Len Bias homicide in Wisconsin, the defendant faces up to 25 years of initial confinement in prison followed by 15 years of extended supervision. There is no mandatory minimum sentence in Wisconsin for a Len Bias homicide.
Use of Len Bias Law in Wisconsin
Fox 6 profiled the increased use of the Len Bias Law in an article released last November. Citing facts from 2015, there were 255 overdose deaths in Milwaukee County with 16 resulting in Len Bias prosecutions. Other southeastern Wisconsin counties had similar rates of Len Bias prosecutions related to total overdose deaths in 2015.
A recent high profile case in Ozaukee County saw Shuntaye Crenshaw sentenced to 12 years prison after providing heroin to his roommate Caleb Ford, who later overdosed. And just three days before Crenshw was sentenced to prison, Ozaukee County prosecutors filed Len Bias charges against Brittany Evans of Milwaukee. It is alleged that Evans supplied the heroin to James Conners which resulted in his death.
Despite the increased use of the law to prosecute those who deliver the substances, its effectiveness is questioned. The law makes no distinction between a drug lord who distributes huge quantities of drugs to users and someone who supplies a single-use amount to their friend. If the end user dies from the drug, the drug lord and the friend can both be charged under the law.
If you or someone you know is facing prosecution under the Len Bias law, you need a skilled defense attorney who understands how to defend this type of case. The attorneys at Meyer Van Severen, S.C. have experience handling Len Bias prosecutions and know what is necessary to fight for you. Contact us today!