Accidental Overdose Could Lead to Much More than Drug-Related Charges in Some States

Baton Rouge BridgeThe “War on Drugs” has resulted in the criminalization of a vast array of acts, as well as the extension of serious criminal charges to situations that might not seem to fit the legal definition of those crimes. In Louisiana, prosecutors recently applied a rarely used state law that allows homicide prosecutions in cases of fatal drug overdoses. This is how a man found himself sentenced to life imprisonment for, essentially, providing drugs to his girlfriend. Texas does not have a comparable statute directly linking drug prohibition and homicide, but the Louisiana case shows how far a state might be willing to go in drug cases.

Louisiana’s criminal statutes identify multiple levels of criminal culpability for homicide, from first-degree murder to negligent homicide. The offense of first-degree murder generally requires a “specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm,” along with other factors, such as the commission of a felony like kidnapping, burglary, or arson. La. Rev. Stat. § 14:30. Second-degree murder generally only requires the “specific intent” element. La. Rev. Stat. § 14:30.1. The second-degree murder statute also includes a provision, however, that makes it an offense when someone “unlawfully distributes or dispenses a controlled dangerous substance” to someone who dies a a result of “ingest[ing] or consum[ing]” that substance. Id. at § 14:30.1(A)(3).

Texas law places a wide gulf between laws dealing with illegal drugs and other criminal laws. The Texas Controlled Substances Act (TCSA) is found in Chapter 481 of the Texas Health & Safety Code, and it primarily deals with the manufacture, delivery, and possession of controlled substances. Chapter 19 of the Texas Penal Code deals with homicide, identifying four distinct offenses:  murder, capital murder, manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide. The definitions of these offenses make no specific mention of illegal drug delivery or use.

The TCSA makes one mention of “death or serious bodily injury” in § 481.141. This provision increases the punishment for “manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance” by one degree—e.g., from a felony of the third degree to a felony of the second degree—if a judge or jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s actions directly led to an event like a fatal drug overdose.

In the Louisiana case mentioned above, the defendant reportedly obtained heroin, which is a controlled substance in every state and under federal law, as part of his girlfriend’s birthday celebration in 2013. She overdosed and died the following day. The defendant was accused of “administer[ing] the fatal dose,” according to the Washington Post. Prosecutors in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana charged him with second-degree murder.

A jury convicted the defendant of that charge in November 2015, and a judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole in February 2016. The same judge denied the defendant’s request to reduce his sentence in June, while also stating in court that the length of the sentence “bothers me tremendously.”

These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.

Board-certified drug crime lawyer Michael J. Brown has fought for the rights of people charged with alleged state and federal offenses in West Texas courts for more than 20 years. Contact us online or at (432) 687-5157 today to schedule a confidential consultation with a knowledgeable and experienced criminal justice advocate.

More Blog Posts:

Medical Marijuana Laws Cause Shifts in Court Rulings on Marijuana Odor and Probable Cause for Search Warrants, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, September 7, 2016

2015 Set New Record for Total Number of Exonerations, with Texas at the Top of the List, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 28, 2016

Texas Law that Took Effect Last Year Bans 1,000 Chemicals Potentially Used in Synthetic Marijuana, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, April 15, 2016

Photo credit: Sewtex (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.