Can you be charged with murder in California if you supplied the drug with which someone else fatally overdosed? This question has come up many times recently amid a rash of fatal overdoses connected with an epidemic of opioid addiction.
The answer is yes, but the details are complicated.
Placer County man faces murder charge
A recent case helps illustrate the issue.
According to news reports, a Placer County man was arrested and charged with murder after police said he supplied fentanyl to a 25-year-old woman who later died from a fatal overdose of the powerful narcotic.
After the woman’s death, police executed a search at the man’s residence, where they said they found fentanyl worth more than $1,000 and evidence of drug sales. Prosecutors filed several charges at the man, including a weapons charge and possession of fentanyl with intent to sell.
They also filed a murder charge against the man in connection with the woman’s overdose death. News reports did not specify the exact type of murder charge.
Malice and carelessness
Traditionally, to prove a murder charge, prosecutors had to show that the defendant acted “with malice aforethought,” meaning that the defendant intended to kill or injure the victim. This isn’t necessarily the case under California law today.
California law defines homicide as any unlawful killing of a human being. Homicide can include many killings that came about as the result of an accident, such as in a case involving vehicular homicide. It also includes murder.
Murder is classified under first and second degree under California law. Generally, first degree murder is a premeditated, intentional killing. It can also be a killing committed in the act of committing a felony. These murders are considered the most serious and carry the harshest penalties.
Any other murder is considered a second-degree murder.
The Penal Code’s definition of murder is elastic enough that it can cover a wide range of situations. Prosecutors have used it in several recent cases to apply to people accused of supplying the drugs used in a fatal overdose.
Prosecutors aren’t always successful with these charges, but they can be . This means people accused of drug crimes can find themselves facing some of the most serious criminal charges available under California law.
Everyone who is accused of a crime has the right to a defense. When the charges are serious, it’s crucial to get help from an experienced criminal defense attorney.