Can You Be Charged with Murder for Distributing Drugs?

Florida takes drug-related conduct seriously. So seriously, in fact, that the state's homicide law allows people to be charged with first-degree murder if they provided someone with a controlled substance and the individual dies after consuming it.

Referred to as drug-induced homicide or death by unlawful distribution, such conduct is charged as a capital felony. This is the same level of charge levied when someone kills another with premeditation or when committing a felony such as robbery, burglary, or sexual battery.

Capital felonies are punishable by life imprisonment or death. Although the death sentence is rarely pursued in drug-induced homicide cases, the consequences of a conviction are severe. In comparison, delivery of a controlled substance where no death occurred is charged as a second- or third-degree felony. At these levels, penalties include maximum prison terms of 15 or 5 years, respectively.

What Drugs Can Lead to Death by Unlawful Distribution?

Florida's drug-induced homicide law (Florida Statutes 782.04(1)(a)(3)) is levied only when an overdose on certain controlled substances caused another person's death.

These drugs include:

  • Schedule I substances
  • Cocaine
  • Opium
  • Methadone
  • Alfentanil
  • Carfentanil
  • Fentanyl
  • Sufentanil
  • Controlled substances enumerated in Florida Statutes § 893.0356

The law applies whether the delivery involved the drug itself or a substance laced with the drug.

Some instances may exist where someone gives another person a drug, but might not be aware that it contains one of the substances that can lead to drug-induced homicide charges. But even in those cases, the supplier can still face prosecution for a murder-related offense.

Who Can Be Charged with Drug-Induced Homicide?

Under Florida's death by unlawful distribution law, any person supplying drugs to others may be prosecuted. That means it doesn't just apply to the person who sold the drug for money or other thing of value. Regardless of who gave the substance, if someone else died after using it, that person may be charged with homicide.

Take, for instance, a 2017 case where a woman was charged with first-degree murder under the drug-induced homicide subsection. The woman allegedly purchased heroin from a drug dealer. She gave the substance to her friend, who overdosed on it. The woman did not sell the drug to her friend; she simply handed it to her. The alleged dealer was also charged with first-degree murder for his role in the other woman's death.

In the case above, the friend was allegedly present when the death occurred (although she was asleep at the time). But it is important to note that the person accused of the crime need not have been present at the time of the death, nor do they need to know that it happened. It is a violation as long as drugs were supplied and death followed.

What Must the Prosecutor Prove in a Drug-Induced Homicide Case?

As with any criminal matter, in an unlawful death by distribution case, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. Thus, they must demonstrate that the defendant somehow supplied the victim with a specified controlled substance that was the proximate cause of the victim's death.

For something to be considered the proximate cause of a death, it must be shown that the death would not have occurred if the defendant had not supplied the drug and that the death was a "reasonable consequence of the defendant's conduct." To gather sufficient evidence to prove their arguments, the prosecutor may use various techniques, such as reviewing phone records or talking to people close to the victim to find out where they got the drugs.

As noted earlier, drug-induced homicide is grouped with premeditated murder. In premeditated murder cases, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant took another's life after consciously deciding to do so. In contrast, proving intent to kill is not required in death by unlawful distribution cases. The prosecutor must prove only that the defendant had intended to deliver the drug.

Speak with an Attorney About Your Case

If you are facing serious charges in Miami, reach out to a defense attorney right away. Criminal cases can be complicated, and even though the prosecutor may have evidence to support their allegations, defenses can be raised to show weaknesses in proof.

At Hubbs Law Firm, we are here to help you through the complexities of your case and seek a favorable outcome on your behalf.

Schedule a free consultation by calling us at (305) 570-4802 or contacting us online today.