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Can You be Held Criminally Responsible if a Friend Overdoses on Drugs?

Unfortunately, many people die every year due to abuse of drugs and other controlled substances. In some cases, aggressive prosecutors may try and pursue criminal charges against the person who allegedly provided the drugs to the deceased. For example, there was recently a high-profile case in California in which a federal jury convicted a man accused of providing fentanyl to a Major League Baseball player who subsequently died from an overdose.

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Tosses Involuntary Manslaughter Conviction

Does simply providing drugs to someone who abuses them make the dealer a killer? Not necessarily. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals recently addressed a different case in which it held the evidence presented at trial could not support the trial court’s verdict of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.

The facts of this case, Skinkle v. State, were as follows. In November 2015, a man was found dead on the floor of his kitchen. An autopsy determined the cause of death was “morphine intoxication.” The victim had a long history of drug abuse and had purchased a quantity of heroin shortly before his death. Police later discovered a series of text messages on the victim’s phone, which led them to identify the defendant as the person who may have sold him the heroin.

The defendant admitted to police that he knew the victim and considered him a friend. He also acknowledged that on the day of the victim’s death, he purchased heroin from a dealer and brought it to the victim’s house. The two men then proceeded to use the heroin. When the victim lost consciousness, the defendant said he tried to revive him, but when that was unsuccessful he panicked and fled.

The defendant elected to proceed with a bench trial, which meant a single judge heard the case without a jury. The judge determined the prosecution had met its burden of proof with respect to involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment. Specifically, the court said the defendant was “conscious of the risk” of providing heroin to the victim and proceeded to act “in a grossly negligent manner” that “created a high degree of risk to human life.”

The Court of Special Appeals, however, disagreed and reversed the trial court’s convictions. At best the defendant knew the “dangers of heroin” and that he provided the victim with heroin. But that alone was not sufficient to support criminal liability. This was not a case in which the defendant was a career drug dealer with a known history of providing unusually potent or dangerous heroin. This was merely a case where two friends were using heroin together and one of them overdosed. The defendant’s actions in this context did not rise to the level of gross negligence necessary to support involuntary manslaughter.

Contact Waldorf Criminal Defense Lawyer Robert Castro Today

This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions contact our office to speak to an experienced lawyer at (301) 705-5137.