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In Opioid Caused Death, in Order For the State to Prove Iinvoluntary Manslaughter, the State Must Prove Beyond a Reasonable Doubt the Existence of a Casual Nexus Between the Defendant’s Act and the Victim’s Death

DFields@fishbeinpa.com,   Criminal Law   Leave a Comment

In an Opinion released on April 4, 2018 the Court of Special Appeals in Patrick Joseph Thomas v State of Maryland held that as a result of the current opioid epidemic wherein some state’s attorneys have charged the sellers of heroin and other dangerous drugs with homicide crimes when a buyer dies from an overdose the Court of Special Appeals has held that in a prosecution for involuntary manslaughter, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the existence between a causal nexus between the defendant’s act and the victim’s death. In Thomas, supra, the Defendant Patrick Joseph Thomas was charged with heroin distribution, manslaughter and reckless endangerment. In Thomas the medical examiner testified that the victim died of narcotic intoxication, however the manner of death could not be determined because of the presence of increased levels of alcohol and drugs in the deceased. The Court of Special Appeals recognized that the defendant had sold four (4) bags of heroin to the victim and that at a later time the victim injected himself with an amount of heroin and in conjunction with alcohol which may have intensified the effect of the alcohol and the drugs. Thus the Court of Special Appeals held that the State had failed to establish a causal connection between the Defendant’s sale of heroin and the victim’s death.

The Court of Special Appeals held that it was ruling in this fashion not as a broad statement of legal principles but in response to the current opioid epidemic and the specific facts of Thomas. The Court of Special Appeals stated that in other circumstances for example if the Defendant had personally injected the victim that a manslaughter conviction could be sustained. Similarly where a Defendant adulterated the heroin as with fentanyl, if the State was able to prove that the adulteration was the cause of the victim’s death, a conviction could be sustained. However, once the causal chain was broken there would be no liability for the unlawful act of involuntary manslaughter against the Defendant.

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