Distributing illegal drugs has severe consequences in the State of Michigan ranging from hefty fines, lengthy probation or a long prison sentence. Illicit substances will fall into the hands of individuals who either do not have the body tolerance to handle it or otherwise consume too much. As a result, the chances of an overdose is high and so is the likelihood that it will be fatal. Did you know that Michigan law will hold the drug dealer responsible for the death caused from the overdose? Did you know that the penalty may result in the drug dealer spending the rest of his or her life in prison?
An individual is guilty of delivery of a controlled substance causing death contrary to MCL 750.317a if the prosecutor can prove ALL of the following beyond a reasonable doubt (Model Criminal Jury Instruction 12.2a):
- First, that the individual delivered a controlled substance to another person. “Delivery” means that the defendant transferred the substance to another person knowing that it was a controlled substance and intending to transfer it to that person.
- Second, that the substance delivered was a Schedule 1 or Schedule 2 controlled substance other than marijuana. This can include, but is not limited to, fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, LSD or GHB.
- Third, that the defendant knew he or she was delivering a controlled substance.
- Fourth, that the controlled substance was consumed by the victim.
- Fifth, that consuming the controlled substance caused the death of the victim. There may be more than one cause of death. The controlled substance delivered by the defendant does not need to be the sole cause of the victim’s death. The prosecutor is only required to prove that the controlled substance was a contributing cause that was a substantial factor in the death of the victim. It does not matter if there was another contributing cause to the death. (Delivery of a controlled substance causing death is a general intent crime, meaning that the defendant doesn’t have to intend for death to occur from delivery of the controlled substance but only that the delivery was intended).
The penalty for delivery of a controlled substance causing death is a felony conviction punishable by imprisonment for life or any term of years.
The delivery of a controlled substance causing death statute has been in effect since January 1st, 2006 and appellate courts have been interpreting its implications on criminal defendants ever since. Here are some notable rulings on the subject:
- People v Plunkett, 485 Mich 50, 60; 780 NW2d 280 (2010) – The Michigan Court of Appeals determined there was insufficient evidence to sustain a bindover on the charge of delivery causing death against the defendant. Defendant drove a friend to purchase drugs on a regular basis and the defendant would sometimes finance and/or receive drugs on the friend’s behalf. That friend later met up with the victim where they consumed the purchased drugs together and the victim subsequently overdosed. The defendant never had contact with the victim and only received drugs on their behalf, but did not “deliver”, whether actually and constructively, to the victim. The Court of Appeals agreed that there was not even enough evidence to sustain an aiding or abetting theory so the charge was properly quashed.
- People v McBurrows, __ Mich __; __ NW2d __ (Docket No. 157200)(2019) – The Michigan Supreme Court held that venue is proper in the county where the controlled substance was delivered, not where the victim died. In that case, the fatal heroin was delivered by the defendant to the decedent in Wayne County, but the decedent passed away at home in Monroe County. The proper place for prosecution was Wayne County since the defendant’s felonious acts occurred there.
- People v Forte, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals issued April 16th, 2019 (Docket No. 343390) – Defendant challenges his conviction for delivery causing death where the victim’s death was determined by the medical examiner to be a combination of drugs including fentanyl, hydrocodone, morphine and Xanax. The Defendant had sold heroin to the victim, but argued that there was no way that a jury could determine that any single drug was the cause of death to sustain a conviction. The Michigan Court of Appeals determined that, while the evidence cannot establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s heroin was the sole cause of death, the prosecutor presented sufficient evidence that the heroin was a cause of death. MCL 750.317a states that the controlled substance must have the effect that a person died as a result of consuming it. Therefore, the conviction was sustained.
If you or a loved one is charged with delivery of a controlled substance causing death, you need an aggressive criminal defense attorney in your corner to fight for your rights. The opioid crisis prevalent throughout the United States is causing prosecutors and judges to take a hard stand on drug cases. With so much at stake, you cannot afford to have anything less than the best legal representation to hold the police and prosecutor to a high standard of proof. The prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused delivered drugs to the decedent. The prosecutor also has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the controlled substance was a contributor to death. If the evidence comes up short, then the accused should be acquitted.
When it is time to get a skilled lawyer on your side, do not hesitate to contact the law offices of Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC to start your best defense today.