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Can You Be Criminally Liable for Someone Else’s Fatal Drug Overdose?


For the last few years, Americans have been setting new records – but not in a positive way. In 2016, there was a record number of drug overdose deaths nationwide according to the Center for Disease Control. Over 63,000 people died from fatal overdoses, and well over sixty percent of these deaths were the result of situations where prescription or illicit opiates were involved.

These statistics are sobering. However, in addition to having to be concerned about your own potential susceptibility to drugs, you should know that under Florida law, you can become criminally liable for someone else’s death from a drug overdose.

A young Tampa man recently experienced this according to an article published by Fox-13 News. The now-19-year-old, who was present when his 17-year-old former girlfriend had a fatal drug overdose after using heroin, has been charged with second-degree felony manslaughter. The man eventually called 9-1-1, but reportedly waited hours after the overdose to do so and the teen had died by the time authorities arrived. The parents of the teen who overdosed are advocating for a new law that would make it a crime to help children acquire drugs, even if playing a minor role.

At this point, that law has not been passed. However, you can still be held criminally liable for someone else’s fatal drug overdose in Florida and every individual should understand what that entails.

What is Florida’s Manslaughter Law?

Under Florida law, manslaughter in the second degree can be imposed on any behavior that constitutes culpable negligence without lawful justification. This statute allows those in situations such as the young man referenced above – who was present during the teen’s overdose but for who no evidence has been disclosed that he intended for her to die – to face criminal liability for merely being present, witnessing what is happening, and not acting.

Understand What the Good Samaritan Law Is – and What it Isn’t.

Under Florida law, there is generally no duty to act or aid someone who is injured, which includes someone who is overdosing. A person who chooses to act generally cannot incur civil liability under Florida’s Good Samaritan Law. However, that person can still become liable for criminal charges as the statute does not offer protection for criminal liability.

Are Drug Dealers the Only Ones Who Need to Be Concerned? What About Murder Charges?

No, although how the law will be applied to those who supply illicit drugs is outstanding. It may include convictions for murder, which carries harsher penalties than manslaughter.A few months ago, allegations by the state were dropped against the first person in Northeast Florida history who had been indicted for a controversial murder charge in connection with a fentanyl overdose death after allegedly supplying the drugs used. As other states and the federal government have implemented similar laws, the way that criminal liability for murder will be shaped by widespread opiate addiction in Florida in the future remains unclear.

Allow the Right Criminal Defense Attorney to Fight for You.

If you are facing criminal charges of any kind, it is critical that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. As a former prosecutor with extensive criminal experience on both sides of the legal system, Donald C. Barrett, P.A. is the Tampa criminal defense attorney you want on your side. Schedule a free consultation today.


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