When the sale, distribution, or administration of a controlled substance directly results in a person’s death, a crime occurs. The individual who provided those drugs may be charged with a serious criminal offense. Under these circumstances a defendant may be charged with several different offenses. All offenses carry jail time and, in extreme circumstances, even the possibility of a death sentence. These offenses are manslaughter in the first degree and manslaughter in the second degree.
A charge of manslaughter happens when an individual providing a controlled substance to another results in their death. Generally, manslaughter requires the state to show that the defendant recklessly caused the death of another person.
The basic difference between manslaughter in the first degree and manslaughter in the second degree is that manslaughter in the first degree (the more serious charge) requires there be circumstances demonstrating an extreme indifference to human life, and the defendant’s reckless conduct must have created a grave risk of death to another person. To be charged with manslaughter in the second degree, the court does not necessary have to show extreme indifference to human life. Also, you don’t have to show a grave risk of death. When someone is charged with second degree manslaughter, the state has a lower burden of proving that they acted recklessly. Also, the burden is lower for proving that their reckless conduct proximately caused the death of another person.
Before a series of reforms to Connecticut’s capital punishment statutes in 2001, any “illegal sale, for economic gain, of cocaine, heroin, or methadone to a person who dies as a direct result of the use by him of such cocaine, heroin, or methadone” would get charged as a capital felony. As a class of offenses, capital felonies carry mandatory lifetime sentences of imprisonment without the possibility of parole, but depending on the severity of the circumstances, an individual found guilty of a capital offense may get sentenced to the death penalty.
While the requirement for charging a capital felony in any case in which the sale of cocaine, heroin, or methadone results in the death of another person has been removed, its objective still remains. While convictions for manslaughter in the first degree are rare in drug cases, the sale of common drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methadone (and the average dealer’s familiarity with the effects and dangers of those drugs) combined with the surrounding circumstances of the transaction can create an inference that the drug dealer demonstrated an extreme indifference to human life, thus elevating their conviction from manslaughter in the second degree to manslaughter in the first degree. See: State v. Wade, 106 Conn. App. 467 (2008) (citing Lofthouse v. Commonwealth, 13 S.W.3d 236, 239 (Ky.2000); Palmer v. State, 871 P.2d 429 (Okla.Crim.App.1994); People v. Cruciani, 36 N.Y.2d 304 (1975)).
Sale of drugs and death to another is a serious situation. If you find yourself in this situation, it is time to be proactive about your defense. You can do this by contacting an attorney.