A story has been moving its way quickly around the internet this holiday season. This story comes out of North Charleston, South Carolina and involves two brothers sitting in the back of a police car. The older brother convinces his younger brother, seated next to him in the squad car, to ingest the cocaine that he has stashed, presumably to avoid detection by the officers that have arrested them, in his rectum. The younger brother eats the cocaine and, soon thereafter, dies of an overdose.
The North Charleston police department is now discussing charging the older brother with involuntary manslaughter for providing the drugs that killed his younger brother and encouraging him to eat them. What is involuntary manslaughter and would it be an appropriate charge in this case?
In Illinois, the involuntary manslaughter statutes can be found at 720 ILCS 5/9-3. This statute essentially says that any person whose acts cause the death of another, and those acts are likely to cause death or great bodily harm, is guilty of involuntary manslaughter, provided that the acts were performed recklessly.
This charge would seem to fit this situation, as the brother's act of giving the drugs to his younger brother to eat would certainly be considered likely to cause death or great bodily harm, given that the younger brother ate around an ounce of cocaine. This act also seems to fit a reckless mental state as well, as a reckless mental state generally is defined as ignoring a situation that you created through which great bodily harm or death could be caused. In Illinois, involuntary manslaughter is a class 3 felony.
I don't know if South Carolina has such a law, but in Illinois, this situation would also be subject to a so-called "Len Bias Law." A Len Bias Law is known more formally as Drug-Induced Homicide. This law can be found at 720 ILCS 5/9-3.3. This law provides an enhanced criminal penalty for anyone that "delivers" drugs that cause the death of another person. Delivery is very loosely defined when it comes to this statute. Delivery would pertain to a common retail drug sale, a person that makes drugs available at a party and potentially to a person that leaves drugs in the open where others may use them. This is a simple crime for the prosecutor to prove, as once the standard for delivery has been met, and the individual has died, there is nothing left to prove, as this is a strict liability crime. Also, in Illinois the drug-induced homicide statute is a class X felony, a crime with a far greater punishment.
If South Carolina has such a law, I wouldn't be surprised to see the brother charged with this crime. The involuntary manslaughter case is subject to the somewhat persuasive defense that the younger brother was not forced to eat the drugs given to him by his brother, whereas the Len Bias law does not have such a requirement.
Regardless of what he is charged with, it is awful to see a younger brother die out of what is essentially loyalty to his older brother.
As always, nothing in this post should be considered legal advice. For legal advice, contact a criminal defense attorney in your area immediately.