Local prosecutor, Pete Orput, in an effort to stop juvenile drug crimes in Minnesota, has made an unusual move: he’s charged a group of people with murder in the death of a teenager, Tara Fitzgerald, who died as the result of taking synthetic LSD. Can he win and convict all of the group? And how does he think this will stop juvenile drug crimes? See the story: http://www.startribune.com/local/east/260934991.html
It’s alleged that a young man named Mr. Claussen had over 300 tabs of synthetic LSD, identified as 25i-NBOMe, in his house and was selling them through a network of teenage friends. One of them gave two tabs to his friend, Tara Fitzgerald. Tara invited a different friend to spend the night at Tara’s home. Both took a tab of the LSD, which they called “n-bombs.” Unfortunately, the drug caused a heart attack (as it has been known to do in humans) in Tara and she died. By investigating back along the distribution chain of sales and giveaways, the police were able to identify two adults and five teenagers who had played some part in getting the synthetic LSD into Tara Fitzgerald’s hands, including Mr. Claussen. Usually, in a murder case, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual knew they would kill the victim and intended to do so. Classic case: two guys are fighting. One pulls out a gun and fires it at the other. The shooter knows the bullet can kill and he intends to kill the other guy by using the gun. In addition, if more people are involved in the killing any one who helps the shooter, in any way, can also be convicted of murder as an accomplice. However, they must also intend that their help would kill the victim. The Tara Fitzgerald death is completely different. In the past, the prosecutor would have a difficult, if not impossible, task of convincing a jury that anyone in the group intended to kill Tara. Therefore, how could any of them be held responsible and be found guilty? But Mr. Orput has a new weapon: the Minnesota legislature changed the homicide statutes to include Murder in the 3rd Degree which reads: Whoever, without intent to cause death, proximately of a human being by directly, indirectly, selling, or giving away an illegal controlled substance is guilty of murder in the third degree. This applies to the drug crimes committed by the juveniles (allegedly) but it goes beyond possession or the sale of illegal drugs. Notice that, unlike most criminal laws, this does not require the prosecutor to prove anyone intended their actions would kill Fitzgerald. It also includes anyone who indirectly sells or gives away drugs to a victim. Obviously, the teen who gave the synthetic LSD directly to Fitzgerald would be guilty, but also all the others in the chain of sales and trades could be found guilty also. What a tragedy for so many young people. The prosecutor has stated he’s moving forward in this fashion “to send a message” to young people who think that just because they don’t directly sell drugs to a victim, they aren’t responsible for the results. They can be found guilty for much more than simply juvenile drug crimes now.