Sometimes, bad things happen…things that tug at the emotions. These events may trigger public outrage and a feeling that someone must “pay.” It is important, however, that these emotions do not rule our criminal justice system. Even if a person has done something wrong, that person should not be convicted of a homicide crime if his actions did not meet the law’s standards for that degree of homicide. That’s one of the places where a skilled Maryland homicide defense attorney can help: by winning an argument that says that, even if you did everything the state says you did, you still are not guilty of the crime that the prosecution charged.
For example, imagine a man fighting a battle against drug addiction and seemingly in recovery. He has a devoted mother and a successful girlfriend who are diligent in trying to keep him on the road to recovery. He also, however, has a friend who is an addict and, one day, the friend buys some heroin and offers to sell him half. He takes the heroin, overdoses and dies. That would undoubtedly be an emotional case, and it actually happened in Queen Anne’s County.
B.R. died because the heroin his friend, N.J., had purchased also contained fentanyl. The state charged N.J. with several crimes, including involuntary manslaughter. The trial court convicted him on the manslaughter charge.
The Court of Special Appeals threw out that conviction and ruled that N.J. was entitled to an acquittal on the involuntary manslaughter charge. In Maryland, in order for an accused person to be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, the state is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused person acted with “gross negligence” and that this gross negligence led to the victim’s death.
Not all sales of dangerous drugs like heroin are criminal gross negligence
The Court of Special Appeals, while acknowledging that heroin is an inherently dangerous drug to use (and, therefore, to sell,) also made it clear that a heroin deal that results in the buyer’s death by OD will not automatically constitute gross negligence (and proof of the crime of involuntary manslaughter.)
The court opinion explained that some heroin deals would amount to gross negligence and some would not. Differentiating the two required analyzing two main things: the ”vulnerability of the buyer” and the “dealer’s experience and knowledge.” In N.J.’s case, there was no evidence that he had ever sold heroin prior to the deal that ended in B.R.’s death. There was no proof that N.J. had any “knowledge or experience” as a heroin dealer, and there was no proof that B.R. was particularly vulnerable or at a “heightened risk of harm.” In other words, of the special factors that the Court of Appeals laid out for deciding when a heroin deal that ends in a buyer’s fatal OD amounts to gross negligence, none were proven in N.J.’s case. For those reasons, a reasonably jury could not possibly find that N.J. was grossly negligent, and the man could not be guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Cases that trigger high levels of public outrage can be extremely treacherous for the accused. The prosecution, whether motivated by emotion or by political calculations, may overcharge the defendant to obtain the approval of the outraged public. No matter how much public displeasure a crime engenders, the law still requires that the crime charged fit the facts of the specific case. If not, then the defendant is entitled to an acquittal. For a strong defense that is well-versed on the specifics of Maryland law and your rights, rely upon knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.