Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals Reverses a Manslaughter Conviction in the Case of a Man Who Gave Heroin to a Friend Who OD’ed

Sometimes, a criminal trial can be cold and clinical. Did the defendant take a smartphone from the electronics store or not? Did she intend to permanently deprive the store of the phone or not? Other cases, though, can be more emotional. When you’re on trial in a case like that, you need an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer who can cut through all that emotional content and frame for the jury what really matters — the facts and the law.

The death of a man, C.T., in Worcester County in 2015, was something that led to a felony case that likely triggered a range of emotional reactions.

Medical examiners concluded that C.T. died of a heroin overdose. Police located the deceased man’s cell phone, which contained an extensive string of text messages between him and another man, R.S., in which the pair discussed drugs and getting high. The police then interviewed R.S., who admitted that he had purchased heroin and brought it to C.T.’s home. The pair had injected themselves with heroin and C.T. lost consciousness. R.S. found his friend not breathing and without a pulse. He then “freaked out” and left the home.

So, you have a man, R.S., who gave his friend heroin, and then, when C.T. overdosed, he bailed on his friend, leaving him to die alone on his kitchen floor. The state charged R.S. with involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment, and the jury convicted on both crimes.

The prosecution’s legal theory on the manslaughter charge was that when R.S. gave C.T. the heroin, being aware that C.T. was going to use it as well as “the risk which heroin poses,” R.S. engaged in the sort of grossly negligent act that permits a manslaughter conviction.

The Court of Special Appeals said that this was incorrect and reversed the conviction. While R.S.’s conduct was regrettable, it was not manslaughter.

Providing Illegal Drugs With the Knowledge of Those Drugs’ Dangerousness is Not Enough

R.S.’s central contention had been that simply providing heroin to someone and also being aware of heroin’s dangerousness is not, without something additional, enough to constitute the degree of gross negligence Maryland law requires for convictions of reckless endangerment and involuntary manslaughter.

This was correct, according to the appeals court. For the act of providing an illegal drug to another person to be grossly negligent and support an involuntary manslaughter conviction, there has to be something more than just provision of the substance and knowledge of its dangerousness. In cases where these kinds of convictions have withstood appeal, those “something more” facts involved defendants who regularly distributed heroin to multiple people (a/k/a drug dealers), who knowingly provided heroin that was particularly potent (like heroin laced with fentanyl), or who gave drugs to someone who was “desperate” to use (and therefore at a heightened risk of overdose.)

R.S.’s case roughly mirrored a 2016 death in Queen Anne’s County. In both cases, the deceased and the defendant were friends who used heroin together and, in both cases, the defendant was not a drug dealer but was simply someone who obtained drugs for him and his friend to use. In those kinds of overdose scenarios, without additional evidence, it’s not enough as a matter of law to support a manslaughter conviction.

Whatever kind of case you’re up against, your chances of obtaining a successful outcome are greatly enhanced by retained skilled legal counsel. Reach out to the knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC, at 301-519-2801 or via our online form, to find out what your legal options are and how to put the power of this office to work for you.

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