The Waco Tribune-Herald had a story about a case involving a little-known statute that increases punishment for a drug delivery where the person who received the drugs dies. The Texas drug laws are set up to increase the punishment as the amount of controlled substances increases. Generally, for substances such as cocaine and methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute, distribution, or manufacture of less than one gram is a State jail felony. The offense level increases to a second degree felony if the amount of drugs is more than one gram but less than four grams, but less than 200 grams. It's a first-degree felony if the amount involved is 200 to 400 grams, There are two other ranges which increase the minimum from 2 years to 10 years, and from 2 years to 15 years.

What most people don't know is that the offense is increased by one degree if a person dies. This enhancement is set forth in Section 481.141 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. This statute applies if a person dies or suffers serious bodily injury  "as a result of ingesting, inhaling or introducing into the person's body any amount of controlled substance manufactured or delivered by the defendant." 

This is what is called a strict liability offense. You don't have to prove intent or even negligence. All the State has to prove is that the defendant provided the drugs and someone dies or suffers serious bodily injury. Of course, the State still has to prove the drugs the person took came from the defendant. 

The Statute is unusual because the victim of the offense also committed a criminal offense; it's still an offense to possess drugs. It's also unusual in that the behavior of the victim is irrelevant. They can knowingly take too much or mix the drugs with something else, and it makes no difference. In other words, their death can be entirely their own fault.

It's not something you see often - thankfully. And that's probably why there are few people other than lawyers who even know about it. 

If you are charged with an offense like this in Waco or anywhere else, hiring a competent criminal defense attorney is important. Forensics may be an important issue since the State will have to prove the drugs came from the defendant. The actual cause of death may also be an issue. Make sure you hire a lawyer who knows how to address those issues, such as experienced drug charge attorney Walter Reaves.

Walter Reaves
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Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 35 years.
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