Georgia Law Review
James Wong and Kent Louie were looking for a good time in Chinatown, and around nine o'clock they got lucky. Two young women agreed to join them. The women, however, wanted some heroin first, so they gave their new companions money and asked them to purchase the drug. After the men obliged, both women injected themselves, and everyone proceeded to a hotel. The next morning, only one of the women woke up. James and Kent, it turned out, had really not been lucky at all; both were tried, convicted and sentenced for felony-murder.
Although the men probably did not know it, their case was not that unusual. Six jurisdictions have held that a person is a murderer if he supplies illegal drugs to another person who later dies of an overdose. Five of the six have relied on the traditional felony-murder rule, holding that supplying drugs is a felony and the overdose is caused by the commission of that felony. The sixth jurisdiction has adopted a statutory variation of the felony-murder rule which is addressed specifically to drug suppliers.
This Note will establish why such applications of the felony-murder rule are contrary to longstanding legal and constitutional principles.
First, regardless of the felony committed by a drug supplier, the act of supplying the drug does not legally cause a user's overdose and death. Second, those courts that use the felony-murder rule violate the constitutional guarantee of due process of law by failing to prove the causation element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Finally, by treating drug suppliers as murderers, and thereby requiring that they be punished as severely as those who either intend or legally cause the deaths of others, the courts necessarily impose a disproportionate sentence in violation of the eighth amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
University of Georgia School of Law
Lynne H. Rambo,
An Unconstitutional Fiction: The Felony-Murder Rule as Applied to the Supply of Drugs,
Ga. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.tamu.edu/facscholar/87