Drug Trafficking That Causes Overdose Can Lead to Felony Murder Charges
On October 15, 2021, prosecutors in Gwinnett County obtained a felony murder conviction of an accused drug dealer for distributing drugs that caused a fatal overdose. The man, Eric Denver Moore, pleaded guilty to charges of selling heroin laced with fentanyl, which caused the death of the drug user. Moore was sentenced to life in prison and must serve a minimum of 30 years. Prosecutors called the conviction a major step in the battle against the opioid epidemic that is afflicting the region and the state.
The landmark case may signal future felony murder prosecutions for overdose deaths that arise out of drug trafficking. Moore was charged with multiple violations of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act, including trafficking in heroin, possession of methamphetamine and possession of Schedule I and Schedule II controlled substances. A controlled substance conviction can carry up to 15 years for a first offense and up to 30 years for a second offense. The homicide charge added significantly to the sentence Moore faced, which may have led to the guilty plea.
In Georgia, an individual can be charged with felony murder if, in the commission of a felony, he or she causes the death of another person. There is no requirement that there be malice or intent to cause death. If convicted, the individual can be sentenced to life in prison, life in prison without parole or death. Although felony murder usually involves a death resulting from an ongoing crime, such as a robbery or kidnapping, prosecutors in Moore’s case argued that the statute applies to distributing a drug to someone who later dies of an overdose.
Drug trafficking means selling, delivering, manufacturing or transporting controlled substances. In Georgia, possessing a certain quantity of these substances is also a drug trafficking offense. For example, possessing four grams or more of heroin or another opium derivative is considered trafficking, even if there is no evidence of actual or intended distribution. But to be convicted of felony murder, the defendant must have provided the illegal drugs — directly or indirectly — to the person who overdosed.
It is important to note that Moore’s case did not go to trial, so prosecutors did not have to prove a connection between his actions and the victim’s death. Several defenses can be raised to a felony murder prosecution, such as lack of proof of a chain of causation. When multiple drugs are found in the victim’s system, it can be difficult to determine where they came from and which ones caused the death. This can be a ground for reasonable doubt, which can derail a prosecution or lead to an acquittal.
If you’ve been arrested for drug trafficking or for any felony offense, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. At James D. Michael, P.C. in Decatur, Georgia, we represent clients in and around DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties. Please call us at 404-857-4059 or contact us online.