A 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.