William Marcus Wilkerson
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Photo of attorney William Marcus Wilkerson

When is an overdose death treated like murder?

On Behalf of | Nov 3, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Drug addiction is a disease – and addicts are compulsive. When drugs are involved, mistakes happen. As such, overdoses have long been regarded as tragedies rather than crimes.

That’s been slowly changing. Around the nation, prosecutors have gotten creative in their zeal to try to “fight fire with fire” when it comes to the opioid epidemic. Some jurisdictions have begun to charge anybody who delivers the drugs to an overdose victim with homicide – whether that delivery person is actually a drug dealer, a good friend, a fellow addict or a close relative.

Now, Texas has eliminated the need for prosecutors to try to interpret the laws to fit their objectives. Let’s look at how the law has changed.

A change in the way fentanyl deaths are prosecuted

Fentanyl has been showing up in all kinds of illegal narcotics because of its powerful high and the extra “kick” it gives when mixed with other drugs. Unfortunately, it’s also lethal in relatively small doses, and drug users are dying at an alarming pace.

In response, a new Texas law now formally makes supplying fentanyl to someone who dies of an overdose an act of murder. In addition, it requires the death certificates of those who die from fentanyl poisoning to be marked as such, instead of listing the deaths as overdoses. This gives the prosecution a much easier time making murder charges stick – and a conviction on this type of murder charge carries a minimum of 15 years in prison.

This new law went into effect on Sept. 1 of this year, and it’s likely to make the news quite a bit as prosecutors start applying charges whenever they can track down the source of any fentanyl that resulted in death. If you’ve been charged over someone’s fentanyl-related death, the best thing you can do is seek immediate legal assistance.