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Prosecutors seek murder charge in Monterey overdose death

 Posted on December 20,2011 in Criminal Defense

Typically, allegations involving drugs in news stories revolve around drug crimes. Drug possession charges and possession with intent to sell can bring serious consequences if a person is convicted of a California drug crime.

This blog recently discussed the unusual charges brought against a Northern California mother involving "implied malice" to support a second-degree murder charge against her, which involved allegations that her breast milk contained sufficient methamphetamine to cause her son's death. This blog has also previously recounted stories in DUI cases where prosecutors seek murder charges based upon implied malice. Those cases are typically referred to in California as "Watson murders" based upon prior California case-law.

Now prosecutors on the Central Coast are seeking a murder charge against a Paradise man based upon the implied malice theory. The case involves allegations that the defendant supplied methadone to an allegedly inebriated woman who later died. The Supreme Court rule some time ago that providing drugs to someone is not inherently dangerous enough to support a murder charge under the legal theory known as the "felony murder" rule.

Prosecutors rely on the felony murder rule to bring charges of murder against someone when a person is killed during the commission of an alleged dangerous felony. It appears that prosecutors are now relying on implied malice to bring a murder charge in a drug-related case, since the felony murder rule is not available.

Last week, a judge in Monterey County Superior Court ordered that the implied malice murder trial can go forward against the Paradise man. Prosecutors allege that the man was in Monterey on business June 9. He allegedly met a woman and her friend at a Monterey bar.

Prosecutors claim the man provided a woman with a number of methadone pills, which she took. Later in the evening, prosecutors claim the accused offered to drive the woman home because she was too drunk. He apparently stayed overnight at the woman's apartment.

The state alleges the woman started having difficulty breathing around 5:00 a.m. Prosecutors allege the man placed a towel under her head on her pillow. He allegedly left the apartment at 8:00 a.m., leaving a cellphone next to her so he could check on her. Authorities allege that the man called the woman later that morning and when she did not answer the cellphone, he returned to her apartment around 10:00 a.m.

The prosecutors say the man called for help around 11:00 a.m. Emergency responders found the woman dead. Prosecutors claim the man did not call 911 earlier because he did not want his employer or family to know that he lived an alleged double-life evidenced by his conduct in the apartment that night.

The judge ruled that the murder case could go forward on the theory of implied malice. The court found that the man knew the dangers of methadone ingestion because he took it regularly. When he failed to call 911 when the woman had difficulty breathing in the privacy of her apartment, the court ruled the defendant's intentional failure to call 911 was sufficient to support the murder charge under the theory of implied malice. The defendant is scheduled for arraignment on Dec. 29 in Monterey.

Source: Monterey Herald, "Monterey drug death case may be first of its kind in state," Virginia Hennessey, Dec. 17, 2011

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