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Felony murder conviction from mistaken drug overdose

Just a few hours ago, a Houston County, Georgia jury convicted a husband and wife of felony murder for the death of a friend who had overdosed on drugs they provided her. The Macon Georgia newspaper has the story and the verdict returned this afternoon. The Atlanta Journal Constitution also covered the trial.

The case sounds like a scene straight out of Pulp Fiction, but it’s true and it’s tragic. The convicted couple were with their friend and gave her a syringe with a significant amount of Oxycontin. The friend injected herself with the drug and died shortly thereafter. Apparently, she had been drinking alcohol earlier (her BAC was .198), and the Oxycontin put her over the edge. No one was trying to kill her, but the couple panicked when the girl had a bad reaction. They left her on the front lawn to die.

The story is a tragic example of how the felony murder statute works in Georgia criminal cases. In Georgia, a person commits the offense of murder when, in the commission of a felony, he causes the death of another human. There is no need for malice or intent to kill. You don’t have to pull the trigger to be convicted of murder in Georgia. And the penalty – life in prison – is the same.

In the Houston County case, the couple were convicted of felony murder because their friend died as a result of the drugs they gave her. Providing the drugs is a felony (unlawful distribution of a controlled substance), and their friend died as a result. The judge sentenced them both to life in prison. It’s the same sentence they would have received if they had shot their friend in the head with a gun.

Our firm has handled several felony murder cases, and we have one pending now in Dekalb County, Georgia. In that case, our client is alleged to have been engaged in an armed robbery that caused the death of the person being robbed. The fact that our client was not the shooter doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t even matter if our client was just the getaway driver. Anyone involved in the commission of a felony that results in the death of another person is guilty of felony murder and faces life in prison if convicted.

Because the penalty is so severe, most criminal defense lawyers will try to negotiate a plea to a lesser charge if there is significant evidence that their client was involved in a crime that led to a murder. If their client was only a minor player in the underlying felony, a plea to a lesser offense can usually be obtained.

Perhaps this couple was offered such a plea and gambled on a trial. Sometimes that works, but as this Middle Georgia couple just learned, you usually get the max if you lose. It’s a tragic end to a tragic case.