Criminal Jury Trial For Drug Sale AndManslaughter Ends; Jury Returns Verdicts Of Guilty And Not Guilty

As last week ended, many of us were still preparing for the summer weather which seems to taunt us in the Boston area every few days. Other, less mundane, issues were consuming the thoughts of Robert L. of Gloucester (hereinafter, the “Defendant”). He and his defense lawyer were awaiting a verdict in his Homicide trial in Lawrence Superior Court.

The jury returned Friday with a mixed verdict for him. He was found to be not guilty of manslaughter, but will still be serving the next three to six years in state prison for the selling of prescription painkillers.

The case dates back to December 17, 2004, when Richard B., 38, (hereinafter, the “Deceased”) died after paramedics found him in cardiac arrest, unconscious and not breathing, in his car outside his Essex Street house. Law enforcement believed that the Deceased had overdosed on a drug known as Fentanyl which had been contained in a patch designed for slow absorption through the skin that he had apparently opened and ingested.

After more than a year of investigation, the Commonwealth decided that the Defendant, 43 at the time, had sold the Deceased, his co-worker, the drug for $50 after a Christmas party. Given the unhappy result, they not only charged him of the sale of the drug, but also with manslaughter.

The prosecution alleged that the Defendant put the Deceased into the Deceased’s car and drove him back to his home, where he then left the 38-year-old unconscious.

Again, this was in December. Leaving someone unconscious in their car in the “dead” of winter is not normally a fantastic idea.

On the other hand, the Defendant did call 911 to report that the Deceased had stopped breathing.

Authorities, however, did not arrive in time to save the Deceased.

The Defendant denied that he had sold the Deceased the offending patch. His attorney argued that the Commonwealth’s version of events was wrong and was the result of sloppy investigation. Said sloppy work would include the presentation of witnesses who were not worthy of belief.

The jury, apparently, did not completely accept either side’s position. After deliberating for six hours between Thursday and Friday, they returned a verdict that had something for everybody. Their verdict indicates that they were not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant was responsible for the Deceased’s death. However, they also clearly did not believe that he did not give his co-worker the drug.

A conviction for the manslaughter charge could have brought the Defendant a 20 year sentence in prison.

While the 3 – 6 prison terms seems like a long time, it is less than the 6 – 8 years the Commonwealth had asked the court to impose.

Attorney Sam’s Take:

Did you know that selling painkillers could land you in state prison for close to a decade?

You do now.

There is an entire listing of various kinds of drugs and the potential sentences selling (or often simply possessing) them can bring. Most people simply think of ecstasy, heroin or cocaine as illegal to sell. However, if one is not a physician, the dispensing of most drugs can be seen as the illegal sale of drugs and carry varying sentences of incarceration.

While the Defendant is alleged to have sold the drug patch for $50, the exchange of money is not necessary for the charge of distribution. If one were simply to give another a drug, it is considered a “sale” under the law.

A civil lawsuit for Wrongful Death could result from this conviction.

“How is that possible?”, you exclaim. “The Defendant was found innocent of causing the Deceased’s death.”

No, he was not. In the criminal justice system, there are two verdicts that a jury can return, namely “Guilty” and “Not Guilty”. “Not Guilty” simply means that the jury was not convinced of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no such verdict as “Innocent” in these cases. Further, the burden of proof in a criminal case is “beyond a reasonable doubt”. However, in a civil case, such as one for wrongful death, the plaintiff need only meet the burden of “more likely than not” to win a verdict of responsibility.

Remember O.J. Simpson? Years before his recent incarceration, he was found not guilty of two murders. However, in the civil lawsuit brought by the families of his alleged victims, he was found responsible.

No, jail time does not result such a civil finding, but huge money awards often do.

Many people feel that the laws surrounding both criminal and civil legal actions are clear and obvious when it comes to causing the death of another person. As with most aspects of our judicial system, such is not the case.

Therefore, the message is the same as always. If you are faced with criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. If you are faced with simply a civil lawsuit, consult an experienced civil litigation attorney.

Not for nothing, but the law firm of Altman & Altman, LLP, fortunately have a stable of attorneys who have many years of both types of experience which can cover you in both areas of judicial risk.

Thought you might like to know.

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