The Very High Importance of Proof of Legal Causation in a Maryland Criminal Case

hypodermic needleA very famous television courtroom drama show once depicted an outraged Assistant District Attorney responding to a mass shooting with multiple deaths by prosecuting the men at the head of a gun manufacturing company for homicide. The jury returned a guilty verdict, but the trial judge threw out that verdict and declared the defendants not guilty. “It’s not about being right… it’s about doing right,” the judge explained to the prosecutor in ruling for the defense. The fictional judge’s point was this:  no matter how we may feel viscerally about a person’s conduct, justice still requires the state to follow the law, and that means that prosecutors still must meet their burden of proof, which includes establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant’s conduct was the legal cause of a victim’s death. That principle was on display in a recent Court of Special Appeals ruling overturning an alleged drug dealer’s manslaughter conviction. To ensure that your rights or the rights of your loved one are fully protected at trial, make sure you have the representation of an experienced Maryland homicide defense attorney.

The alleged drug dealer was a man named Patrick. In the early morning hours of June 26, 2015, a man named Colton was found dead in his mother’s bathroom of an apparent heroin overdose. By his body, police found four empty bags with the word “Banshee” and a blue emblem on them. Police later arrested Patrick in his home. At the home, they found several dozen bags of heroin with the word “Banshee” and the same blue emblem on them. Based on that evidence, the state prosecuted Patrick for heroin distribution, reckless endangerment, and manslaughter. At the end of the trial, Patrick was convicted on all three counts.

The Court of Special Appeals threw out the manslaughter conviction. No matter how much negative influence illegal drugs and those who sell them might have, criminal convictions must rest on proof of certain things, including “legal causation.” The acts that the state proved that Patrick committed were not enough to establish that he legally caused Colton’s death. Patrick merely sold Colton four bags of heroin. He did not tell Colton how much to use; the deceased man chose the amount that he injected into his bloodstream, which he did at a later time and in another place. Patrick also did not tell Colton to use the heroin with alcohol, which the dead man did.

There are certain situations in which the evidence might include additional facts that could give a prosecutor an adequate basis to demonstrate legal causation. If, for example, Patrick had injected Colton with heroin, and Colton had died, that might have been sufficient. Alternatively, if Patrick had modified his heroin in certain ways (such as by mixing it with fentanyl), the prosecution might be able to prove that the modification was the legal cause of the deceased’s death. In Patrick’s case, though, “the causal chain was broken,” so he could not be guilty of manslaughter.

All criminal trials must have certain things in order to result in a valid conviction. One of these is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of legal causation:  that the defendant’s conduct was necessarily linked to the victim’s death as the cause of that death. Without evidence of causation, the defendant cannot be legally liable for the crime. These and other legal principles can serve as the keys to successful defenses in many criminal cases. To make sure you or your loved one has proper and complete protection of your rights, as well as a strong and persuasive defense, in your criminal trial, reach out to experienced Maryland drug crime attorney Anthony A. Fatemi. This office has been providing effective defense representation to the accused in Maryland for many years. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Court of Special Appeals: Maryland Police Officer Went Too Far in Conducting Warrantless Search, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, April 7, 2017

Maryland Court Throws Out Drug Convictions When State Asserted Multiple Charges Based on One Conspiracy, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Feb. 5, 2017

Photo Credit: George Hodan, [CC0 License], via publicdomainpictures.net

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