Drug Induced Homicide In

Florida

In an effort to combat the rising tide of fatalities, many states have implemented Drug Induced Homicide laws to hold drug dealers accountable for the deaths.

Fortunately, Florida is one of those states. The following is an excerpt from Florida State Law:

Fla. Stat. § 782.04. Murder

 (1)(a) The unlawful killing of a human being:

1. When perpetrated from a premeditated design to effect the death of the person killed or any human being;

2. When committed by a person engaged in the perpetration of, or in the attempt to perpetrate, any:

a. Trafficking offense prohibited by s. 893.135(1),
b. Arson,
c. Sexual battery,
d. Robbery,
e. Burglary,
f. Kidnapping,
g. Escape,
h. Aggravated child abuse,
i. Aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult,
j. Aircraft piracy,
k. Unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb,
l. Carjacking,
m. Home-invasion robbery,
n. Aggravated stalking,
o. Murder of another human being,
p. Resisting an officer with violence to his or her person,
q. Aggravated fleeing or eluding with serious bodily injury or death,
r. Felony that is an act of terrorism or is in furtherance of an act of terrorism, including a felony under s. 775.30, s. 775.32, s. 775.33, s. 775.34, or s. 775.35, or
s. Human trafficking; or

3. Which resulted from the unlawful distribution by a person 18 years of age or older of any of the following substances, or mixture containing any of the following substances, when such substance or mixture is proven to be the proximate cause of the death of the user:

a. A substance controlled under s. 893.03(1);

b. Cocaine, as described in s. 893.03(2)(a)4.

c. Opium or any synthetic or natural salt, compound, derivative, or preparation of opium;

d. Methadone;

e. Alfentanil, as described in s. 893.03(2)(b)1.;

f. Carfentanil, as described in s. 893.03(2)(b)6.;

g. Fentanyl, as described in s. 893.03(2)(b)9.;

h. Sufentanil, as described in s. 893.03(2)(b)30.; or

i. A controlled substance analog, as described in s. 893.0356, of any substance specified in sub-subparagraphs a.-h.,

is murder in the first degree and constitutes a capital felony, punishable as provided in s. 775.082.

(b) In all cases under this section, the procedure set forth in s. 921.141 shall be followed in order to determine sentence of death or life imprisonment. If the prosecutor intends to seek the death penalty, the prosecutor must give notice to the defendant and file the notice with the court within 45 days after arraignment. The notice must contain a list of the aggravating factors the state intends to prove and has reason to believe it can prove beyond a reasonable doubt. The court may allow the prosecutor to amend the notice upon a showing of good cause.

(2) The unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual, is murder in the second degree and constitutes a felony of the first degree, punishable by imprisonment for a term of years not exceeding life or as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

(3) When a human being is killed during the perpetration of, or during the attempt to perpetrate, any:

(a) Trafficking offense prohibited by s. 893.135(1),

(b) Arson,

(c) Sexual battery,

(d) Robbery,

(e) Burglary,

(f) Kidnapping,

(g) Escape,

(h) Aggravated child abuse,

(i) Aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult,

(j) Aircraft piracy,

(k) Unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb,

(l) Carjacking,

(m) Home-invasion robbery,

(n) Aggravated stalking,

(o) Murder of another human being,

(p) Aggravated fleeing or eluding with serious bodily injury or death,

(q) Resisting an officer with violence to his or her person, or

(r) Felony that is an act of terrorism or is in furtherance of an act of terrorism, including a felony under s. 775.30, s. 775.32, s. 775.33, s. 775.34, or s. 775.35,

by a person other than the person engaged in the perpetration of or in the attempt to perpetrate such felony, the person perpetrating or attempting to perpetrate such felony commits murder in the second degree, which constitutes a felony of the first degree, punishable by imprisonment for a term of years not exceeding life or as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

(4) The unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated without any design to effect death, by a person engaged in the perpetration of, or in the attempt to perpetrate, any felony other than any:

(a) Trafficking offense prohibited by s. 893.135(1),

(b) Arson,

(c) Sexual battery,

(d) Robbery,

(e) Burglary,

(f) Kidnapping,

(g) Escape,

(h) Aggravated child abuse,

(i) Aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult,

(j) Aircraft piracy,

(k) Unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb,

(l) Unlawful distribution of any substance controlled under s. 893.03(1), cocaine as described in s. 893.03(2)(a)4., or opium or any synthetic or natural salt, compound, derivative, or preparation of opium by a person 18 years of age or older, when such drug is proven to be the proximate cause of the death of the user,

(m) Carjacking,

(n) Home-invasion robbery,

(o) Aggravated stalking,

(p) Murder of another human being,

(q) Aggravated fleeing or eluding with serious bodily injury or death,

(r) Resisting an officer with violence to his or her person, or

(s) Felony that is an act of terrorism or is in furtherance of an act of terrorism, including a felony under s. 775.30, s. 775.32, s. 775.33, s. 775.34, or s. 775.35, is murder in the third degree and constitutes a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

(5) As used in this section, the term “terrorism” means an activity that:

(a)1. Involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life which is a violation of the criminal laws of this state or of the United States; or

2. Involves a violation of s. 815.06; and

(b) Is intended to:

1. Intimidate, injure, or coerce a civilian population;

2. Influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or

3. Affect the conduct of government through destruction of property, assassination, murder, kidnapping, or aircraft piracy.

Fla. Stat. § 775.082. Penalties applicability of sentencing structures mandatory minimum sentences for certain reoffenders previously released from prison
Effective: 9/30/17  –  Through: 12/31/18
 

(1)(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b), a person who has been convicted of a capital felony shall be punished by death if the proceeding held to determine sentence according to the procedure set forth in s. 921.141 results in a determination that such person shall be punished by death, otherwise such person shall be punished by life imprisonment and shall be ineligible for parole.

(b)1. A person who actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim and who is convicted under s. 782.04 of a capital felony, or an offense that was reclassified as a capital felony, which was committed before the person attained 18 years of age shall be punished by a term of imprisonment for life if, after a sentencing hearing conducted by the court in accordance with s. 921.1401, the court finds that life imprisonment is an appropriate sentence. If the court finds that life imprisonment is not an appropriate sentence, such person shall be punished by a term of imprisonment of at least 40 years. A person sentenced pursuant to this subparagraph is entitled to a review of his or her sentence in accordance with s. 921.1402(2)(a).

2. A person who did not actually kill, intend to kill, or attempt to kill the victim and who is convicted under s. 782.04 of a capital felony, or an offense that was reclassified as a capital felony, which was committed before the person attained 18 years of age may be punished by a term of imprisonment for life or by a term of years equal to life if, after a sentencing hearing conducted by the court in accordance with s. 921.1401, the court finds that life imprisonment is an appropriate sentence. A person who is sentenced to a term of imprisonment of more than 15 years is entitled to a review of his or her sentence in accordance with s. 921.1402(2)(c).

3. The court shall make a written finding as to whether a person is eligible for a sentence review hearing under s. 921.1402(2)(a) or (c). Such a finding shall be based upon whether the person actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim. The court may find that multiple defendants killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim.

(2) In the event the death penalty in a capital felony is held to be unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court or the United States Supreme Court, the court having jurisdiction over a person previously sentenced to death for a capital felony shall cause such person to be brought before the court, and the court shall sentence such person to life imprisonment as provided in subsection (1). No sentence of death shall be reduced as a result of a determination that a method of execution is held to be unconstitutional under the State Constitution or the Constitution of the United States.

(3) A person who has been convicted of any other designated felony may be punished as follows:

(a)1. For a life felony committed before October 1, 1983, by a term of imprisonment for life or for a term of at least 30 years.

2. For a life felony committed on or after October 1, 1983, by a term of imprisonment for life or by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 40 years.

3. Except as provided in subparagraph 4., for a life felony committed on or after July 1, 1995, by a term of imprisonment for life or by imprisonment for a term of years not exceeding life imprisonment.

4.a. Except as provided in sub-subparagraph b., for a life felony committed on or after September 1, 2005, which is a violation of s. 800.04(5)(b), by:

(I) A term of imprisonment for life; or

(II) A split sentence that is a term of at least 25 years’ imprisonment and not exceeding life imprisonment, followed by probation or community control for the remainder of the person’s natural life, as provided in s. 948.012(4).

b. For a life felony committed on or after July 1, 2008, which is a person’s second or subsequent violation of s. 800.04(5)(b), by a term of imprisonment for life.

5. Notwithstanding subparagraphs 1.-4., a person who is convicted under s. 782.04 of an offense that was reclassified as a life felony which was committed before the person attained 18 years of age may be punished by a term of imprisonment for life or by a term of years equal to life imprisonment if the judge conducts a sentencing hearing in accordance with s. 921.1401 and finds that life imprisonment or a term of years equal to life imprisonment is an appropriate sentence.

a. A person who actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim and is sentenced to a term of imprisonment of more than 25 years is entitled to a review of his or her sentence in accordance with s. 921.1402(2)(b).

b. A person who did not actually kill, intend to kill, or attempt to kill the victim and is sentenced to a term of imprisonment of more than 15 years is entitled to a review of his or her sentence in accordance with s. 921.1402(2)(c).

c. The court shall make a written finding as to whether a person is eligible for a sentence review hearing under s. 921.1402(2)(b) or (c). Such a finding shall be based upon whether the person actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim. The court may find that multiple defendants killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim.

6. For a life felony committed on or after October 1, 2014, which is a violation of s. 787.06(3)(g), by a term of imprisonment for life.

(b)1. For a felony of the first degree, by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 30 years or, when specifically provided by statute, by imprisonment for a term of years not exceeding life imprisonment.

2. Notwithstanding subparagraph 1., a person convicted under s. 782.04 of a first degree felony punishable by a term of years not exceeding life imprisonment, or an offense that was reclassified as a first degree felony punishable by a term of years not exceeding life, which was committed before the person attained 18 years of age may be punished by a term of years equal to life imprisonment if the judge conducts a sentencing hearing in accordance with s. 921.1401 and finds that a term of years equal to life imprisonment is an appropriate sentence.

a. A person who actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim and is sentenced to a term of imprisonment of more than 25 years is entitled to a review of his or her sentence in accordance with s. 921.1402(2)(b).

b. A person who did not actually kill, intend to kill, or attempt to kill the victim and is sentenced to a term of imprisonment of more than 15 years is entitled to a review of his or her sentence in accordance with s. 921.1402(2)(c).

c. The court shall make a written finding as to whether a person is eligible for a sentence review hearing under s. 921.1402(2)(b) or (c). Such a finding shall be based upon whether the person actually killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim. The court may find that multiple defendants killed, intended to kill, or attempted to kill the victim.

(c) Notwithstanding paragraphs (a) and (b), a person convicted of an offense that is not included in s. 782.04 but that is an offense that is a life felony or is punishable by a term of imprisonment for life or by a term of years not exceeding life imprisonment, or an offense that was reclassified as a life felony or an offense punishable by a term of imprisonment for life or by a term of years not exceeding life imprisonment, which was committed before the person attained 18 years of age may be punished by a term of imprisonment for life or a term of years equal to life imprisonment if the judge conducts a sentencing hearing in accordance with s. 921.1401 and finds that life imprisonment or a term of years equal to life imprisonment is an appropriate sentence. A person who is sentenced to a term of imprisonment of more than 20 years is entitled to a review of his or her sentence in accordance with s. 921.1402(2)(d).

(d) For a felony of the second degree, by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 15 years.

(e) For a felony of the third degree, by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 5 years.

(4) A person who has been convicted of a designated misdemeanor may be sentenced as follows:

(a) For a misdemeanor of the first degree, by a definite term of imprisonment not exceeding 1 year;

(b) For a misdemeanor of the second degree, by a definite term of imprisonment not exceeding 60 days.

(5) Any person who has been convicted of a noncriminal violation may not be sentenced to a term of imprisonment nor to any other punishment more severe than a fine, forfeiture, or other civil penalty, except as provided in chapter 316 or by ordinance of any city or county.

(6) Nothing in this section shall be construed to alter the operation of any statute of this state authorizing a trial court, in its discretion, to impose a sentence of imprisonment for an indeterminate period within minimum and maximum limits as provided by law, except as provided in subsection (1).

(7) This section does not deprive the court of any authority conferred by law to decree a forfeiture of property, suspend or cancel a license, remove a person from office, or impose any other civil penalty. Such a judgment or order may be included in the sentence.

(8)(a) The sentencing guidelines that were effective October 1, 1983, and any revisions thereto, apply to all felonies, except capital felonies, committed on or after October 1, 1983, and before January 1, 1994, and to all felonies, except capital felonies and life felonies, committed before October 1, 1983, when the defendant affirmatively selects to be sentenced pursuant to such provisions.

(b) The 1994 sentencing guidelines, that were effective January 1, 1994, and any revisions thereto, apply to all felonies, except capital felonies, committed on or after January 1, 1994, and before October 1, 1995.

(c) The 1995 sentencing guidelines that were effective October 1, 1995, and any revisions thereto, apply to all felonies, except capital felonies, committed on or after October 1, 1995, and before October 1, 1998.

(d) The Criminal Punishment Code applies to all felonies, except capital felonies, committed on or after October 1, 1998. Any revision to the Criminal Punishment Code applies to sentencing for all felonies, except capital felonies, committed on or after the effective date of the revision.

(e) Felonies, except capital felonies, with continuing dates of enterprise shall be sentenced under the sentencing guidelines or the Criminal Punishment Code in effect on the beginning date of the criminal activity.

(9)(a)1. “Prison releasee reoffender” means any defendant who commits, or attempts to commit:

a. Treason;
b. Murder;
c. Manslaughter;
d. Sexual battery;
e. Carjacking;
f. Home-invasion robbery;
g. Robbery;
h. Arson;
i. Kidnapping;
j. Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon;
k. Aggravated battery;
l. Aggravated stalking;
m. Aircraft piracy;
n. Unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb;
o. Any felony that involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against an individual;
p. Armed burglary;
q. Burglary of a dwelling or burglary of an occupied structure; or
r. Any felony violation of s. 790.07, s. 800.04, s. 827.03, s. 827.071, or s. 847.0135(5);

within 3 years after being released from a state correctional facility operated by the Department of Corrections or a private vendor or within 3 years after being released from a correctional institution of another state, the District of Columbia, the United States, any possession or territory of the United States, or any foreign jurisdiction, following incarceration for an offense for which the sentence is punishable by more than 1 year in this state.

2. “Prison releasee reoffender” also means any defendant who commits or attempts to commit any offense listed in sub-subparagraphs (a)1.a.-r. while the defendant was serving a prison sentence or on escape status from a state correctional facility operated by the Department of Corrections or a private vendor or while the defendant was on escape status from a correctional institution of another state, the District of Columbia, the United States, any possession or territory of the United States, or any foreign jurisdiction, following incarceration for an offense for which the sentence is punishable by more than 1 year in this state.

3. If the state attorney determines that a defendant is a prison releasee reoffender as defined in subparagraph 1., the state attorney may seek to have the court sentence the defendant as a prison releasee reoffender. Upon proof from the state attorney that establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant is a prison releasee reoffender as defined in this section, such defendant is not eligible for sentencing under the sentencing guidelines and must be sentenced as follows:

a. For a felony punishable by life, by a term of imprisonment for life;

b. For a felony of the first degree, by a term of imprisonment of 30 years;

c. For a felony of the second degree, by a term of imprisonment of 15 years; and

d. For a felony of the third degree, by a term of imprisonment of 5 years.

(b) A person sentenced under paragraph (a) shall be released only by expiration of sentence and shall not be eligible for parole, control release, or any form of early release. Any person sentenced under paragraph (a) must serve 100 percent of the court-imposed sentence.

(c) Nothing in this subsection shall prevent a court from imposing a greater sentence of incarceration as authorized by law, pursuant to s. 775.084 or any other provision of law.

(d)1. It is the intent of the Legislature that offenders previously released from prison who meet the criteria in paragraph (a) be punished to the fullest extent of the law and as provided in this subsection, unless the state attorney determines that extenuating circumstances exist which preclude the just prosecution of the offender, including whether the victim recommends that the offender not be sentenced as provided in this subsection.

2. For every case in which the offender meets the criteria in paragraph (a) and does not receive the mandatory minimum prison sentence, the state attorney must explain the sentencing deviation in writing and place such explanation in the case file maintained by the state attorney.

(10) If a defendant is sentenced for an offense committed on or after July 1, 2009, which is a third degree felony but not a forcible felony as defined in s. 776.08, and excluding any third degree felony violation under chapter 810, and if the total sentence points pursuant to s. 921.0024 are 22 points or fewer, the court must sentence the offender to a nonstate prison sanction. However, if the court makes written findings that a nonstate prison sanction could present a danger to the public, the court may sentence the offender to a state correctional facility pursuant to this section.

(11) The purpose of this section is to provide uniform punishment for those crimes made punishable under this section and, to this end, a reference to this section constitutes a general reference under the doctrine of incorporation by reference.

 
 

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Our mission is to:

  • Introduce Drug Induced Homicide legislation to Sates that do not currently have this statute.
  • Raise awareness about the effectiveness of criminal investigation and prosecution in reducing deaths related to suspected drug toxicity.
  • Support families of victims who were unlawfully delivered a controlled substance resulting in their death.

Drug Induced Homicide, Inc.® is a registered 501(c) nonprofit organization.

Understanding Drug Induced Homicide Law

From the Attorney General’s point of view.

Read the Brief

For many years, most prosecutors charged only those drug-related deaths involving rival drug gang fights as being homicides. But the focus has now broadened to also examine overdose deaths as prosecutable homicides against those who sold and distributed the drugs causing the overdose. It is important to emphasize that not every death because of a drug overdose is a criminal matter. Some are suicides, and some are simply accidents. But some deaths, legally and ethically, may rise to the level of criminal homicide. These homicides may not be easily discovered, investigated, prosecuted or proven, but they still deserve attention. For that to happen, a paradigm shift in thinking by law enforcement officers and prosecutors is required, away from attitudes focusing on accident to thinking and treating overdoses as homicides.

In order to make that shift, it is important to understand and appreciate the variety of approaches available within existing statutory schemes and case law. While a handful of states have no statutory or case law basis for treating overdose deaths as homicides,[8] the majority already had or have adopted a wide variety of legal theories useful in addressing these cases. Two basic options highlight the differing approaches: use of the existing statutory structure, often referred to as the felony murder rule, and creation of a specific offense of death resulting from the distribution of controlled substances.

What might be characterized as the traditional approach to the matter may be found in those states that have included overdose deaths within their murder statute. Arizona and Oklahoma, among others, list drug offenses as crimes which, when a death occurs during the commission of that offense, is treated as murder.[9] A significant number of states enumerate drug offenses within their murder statutes and, while the laws have been on the books for a considerable time, they are only now being considered for use in overdose cases.

A felony murder statute allows the prosecutor to charge an offense which requires no specific mental state other than that required for the enumerated offense;[10] the law may specifically state that no proof of intent to cause the death is required.[11] In general, proof of the underlying offense and the cause of death will be sufficient to obtain a conviction under this approach. Additional elements, such as proof that the underlying felony must be inherently dangerous to human life,[12] or proof of recklessness in both causation and appreciation or awareness of the risk,[13] may be required in some states.

Where these various felony murder states differ is in their classifications for punishment for the offense. The possibilities range from first degree or capital murder,[14] second degree murder,[15] manslaughter,[16] involuntary manslaughter,[17] and even negligent homicide.[18] They may also limit the application of the statute. For example, Florida’s statute applies only to distribution by an adult,[19] while Colorado’s statute applies only to distribution to a minor on school grounds.[20]

Those states punishing drug dealing resulting in death as a specific offense have adopted a variety of approaches as well. These “drug-induced homicide” statutes are crafted as stand-alone felonies rather than being included in existing murder or other statutes. Again, as with the felony murder alternatives, the treatment of punishment and application may vary. New Hampshire and New Jersey both define the offense as being one of strict liability.[21] Both statutes, mirroring one another, apply to methamphetamine, lysergic acid, diethylamide phencyclidine (PCP), or any other Schedule I and II controlled substances and provides that any person who manufactures, sells, or dispenses the substances in violation of law is strictly liable for a death resulting from their use.

The varieties of these statutes are numerous and diverse. Pennsylvania’s statute applies to any controlled substance and provides that the delivery must be done intentionally.[22] Delaware has imposed a minimum weight threshold to its statute, requiring, for example, that there be delivery of at least one gram or more of heroin.[23] Michigan’s law covers Schedule I and II controlled substances, but specifically excludes marijuana.[24] A recent amendment to the Illinois law allows for prosecution for a death within the state caused by a drug that was delivered outside the state in violation of the law of that other jurisdiction.[25]

For those states, such as California, which have no felony murder or drug-induced homicide statute that would apply to overdose situations, prosecutors are left to cobble together a criminal liability theory using a second degree murder or manslaughter charge with a negligence or reckless element. California might make use of its involuntary manslaughter statute.[26] New York might make use of its statutes regarding criminally negligent homicide (criminal negligence standard) or manslaughter in the second degree (reckless standard).[27] A bill to amend Ohio’s involuntary manslaughter statute to include causing or contributing to the death of a person as a result of the sale, delivery, or administration of a controlled substance and making it a strict liability offense was introduced but has languished since 2016.[28]

Regardless of the criminal statute scheme, one element is the lynchpin to the crime: causation. Whether a felony murder, strict liability, or reckless or negligent theory, causation raises perhaps the most difficult issues in proving these cases.

Overdose cases have a number of matters that may cause the prosecutor some concern, from lack of sympathy for the victim to proving who provided the drugs. On top of these, many of the victims in overdose death cases are polysubstance abusers, injecting or ingesting a wide variety of both legal and illegal substances. Further, because of their drug addictions, their overall general health may be compromised, making them susceptible to diseases and conditions which might impact the situation leading to their deaths. It becomes imperative for the prosecutor to understand what is needed to prove regarding causation.

States have enumerated a variety of different legal standards for causation of death; “direct result,” “caused by,” “proximately caused,” and “results from” being the more common. Also included are “recklessly causes” and “more likely than not.” Each standard has its own legal ramification. It is important to note, however, that the analysis of proximate causation in tort law is quite different from that analysis applied in criminal law. Mere negligence may suffice in a personal injury case, but not in a criminal matter where gross or wanton disregard is needed to show criminal negligence.

In those states making use of a result-oriented scheme, states may follow the reasoning set forth in the leading federal case on the issue, Burrage v United States.[29] Burrage was prosecuted under the provisions of 21 U. S. C. § 841(b) (1) (C) which provides for punishment in the event that “death or serious bodily injury result[ed] from the use of [the drug].” In Burrage, long-time drug user Banka died following an extended binge that included using heroin purchased from Burrage. At trial, medical experts testified that Bank might have died even if he had not taken the heroin Burrage provided. Denying a motion for judgment of acquittal, the trial court instructed the jury that the government only had to prove that heroin was a contributing cause of death. The U.S. Supreme Court looked at both actual and proximate cause, holding that, at least where the use of the drug distributed by Burrage was not an independently sufficient cause of the victim’s death, he could not be held liable unless such use is a “but-for” cause of death. Thus, under Burrage, a particular drug causing a contributory effect to death is not sufficient to create criminal liability.

This narrow approach to causation makes it especially important that the medical examiner and toxicologist both be consulted prior to initiating a prosecution. Beyond the issue of whether the death is an accident versus a homicide, the medical examiner and toxicologist must understand the legal requirements and what ultimately may be asked of them during testimony in homicide prosecutions such as these. The prosecutor must also understand the distinctions and potential nuances in the medical examiner’s stated cause of death.

Even under a felony murder scheme, often seen as a strict liability situation, causation may still be required. For example, the sole act of selling heroin to a purchaser, who, voluntarily and out of the presence and without the assistance of the seller, subsequently injected heroin and died as a result, may be insufficient to invoke the felony murder rule. In order to convict of felony-murder, it may be necessary in some jurisdictions to show that the conduct causing the death was done while in the commission of a felony or in furtherance of the design to commit the felony.[30] Thus, if the commission of the felony is completed upon the sale, a felony murder charge cannot stand. Nor may the result causation element be ignored even in the strict liability situations. These statutes may still contain a result oriented causation requirement.[31]

Thus, even when not specifically enumerated in the statute, causation remains an essential element. For example, where manufacturing or delivering a controlled substance is the underlying felony relied upon in a felony murder prosecution, the state might still be required to prove (1) the commission or attempt to commit the felony; (2) the defendant’s participation in such felony; and (3) the death of the victim as a result of injuries received during the course of the commission or attempt.[32] Furthermore, the cause of death might not necessarily be the sole cause of death.[33] And where the medical examiner has found that the ingestion of the drug was not the sole cause of death, the prosecutor will face an additional legal hurdle. Thus, in order to make the shift to treating overdose deaths as homicides, it is imperative that investigators and prosecutors find not only the correct legal scheme under which to proceed, but also be mindful of the causation element embedded in a statute or required by a jurisdiction’s case law.

Prosecuting overdose deaths as homicides will not be the silver bullet to the public health crisis this nation faces. However, it is one tool in the law enforcement arsenal which, if used appropriately, can assist locally in focusing on the drug dealers who take advantage of those who have become addicted to opioids.

 

Sources and Works Cited

[1] Ctrs. for Disease Control, Provisional Counts of Drug Overdose Deaths

[2] Illicit Drug Use, Illicit Drug Use Disorders, and Drug Overdose Deaths in Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Areas

[3] The First Count of Fentanyl Deaths in 2016: Up 540% in Three Years

[4] The Heroin Epidemic: Then and Now

[5] Heroin Use Rises Significantly Among Young Whites

[6] Why Fentanyl Is So Much More Deadly than Heroin

[7] Counterfeit Prescription Pills Containing Fentanyl: A Global Threat, DEA Intell. Brief

[8] The offense of trafficking a controlled substance by possession with intent to distribute cannot be the predicate felony to a felony murder conviction because it is not an inherently dangerous crime. State v. Bankert, 117 N.M. 614, 975 P.2d 370 (1994).

[9] Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-1105 and 21 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 21-701/7.

[10] Alaska Stat. § 11.41.120.

[11] Minn. Stat. § 609.195.

[12] Ga. Code Ann. § 16-5-1.

[13] Iowa Code § 707.5.

[14] See, e.g., Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-1105, Ga. Code Ann. § 16-5-1.

[15] La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14:30.1, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 565.021.

[16] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 265, § 13.

[17] Nev. Rev. Stat. § 200.070.

[18] Mont. Code Ann. § 45-5-104.

[19] Fla. Stat. § 782.04(1(a)3.

[20] Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-3-102(e).

[21] N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann § 318-B:26; N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:35-9.

[22] Tit. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2506.

[23] Del. Code Ann .tit 16 § 4752B.

[24] Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.317a.

[25] 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/9-3.3.

[26] Cal. Penal Code § 192.

[27] N.Y. Penal Law §§ 125.10, 125.15.

[28] H.B. 141, 132nd General Assembly.

[29] 134 S. Ct. 881 (2014).

[30] See State v. Mauldin, 215 Kan. 956, 529 P.2d 124 (1974)

[31] N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:35-9

[32] See., e.g., State v. Williams, 172 W.Va. 295, 305 S.E.2d 251 (1983)

[33] See State v. Jenkins, 229 W.Va. 415, 729 S.E.2d 250 (2012)