Our readers may have heard that in Florida if a person sold or gave drugs to another person who later overdosed on those drugs and died, the first person can be charged with 1st-degree murder. This differs from most other forms of first-degree murder, which require a specific intent to kill the victim, or else the victim must have died while the defendant was in the course of committing certain felonies.
This law has been in place since 1972. Now, a state lawmaker wants to expand the law to lead to more of these fairly unusual charges.
Reducing the burden of proof
Currently, the law requires the prosecutor to prove that the drugs verifiably caused the deceased’s death. A bill that the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee recently passed would lower the standard. If it becomes law, a murder conviction would hinge on whether the drug was merely a “substantial factor” in the person’s death. The bill would also add methamphetamine to the list of drugs that could lead to murder charges for the person who sold or provided it to the deceased.
The change in standard would make it significantly easier to get a conviction. Often, a person who died of a drug overdose consumed multiple substances at once. Proving that one particular drug was the one that caused the death can be difficult under those circumstances.
Making a conviction too easy?
The bill is controversial. Critics say it will add to the burden of dealing with death penalty cases, which usually involve several lengthy, expensive appeals. One lawmaker noted that the “substantial factor” standard is most often used in civil lawsuits, not criminal cases. With the defendant’s life potentially at stake, that standard of proof is too low, the representative said.
Changes to Florida’s criminal code happen all the time, and the differences can catch you by surprise. In some cases, it is possible to get charged with a much more severe crime than you might have expected.