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Tennessee’s Death By Distribution Law Can Mean a Second-Degree Murder Conviction

 Posted on June 28,2021 in Drug Crimes

know county defense lawyerOn April 20th of this year, two teenage brothers were found dead in their Roane County, TN home. According to law enforcement, the teens, aged 19- and 17-years old, had a variety of drugs on them and it was determined both died from a lethal dose of fentanyl in pill form. Last week, police arrested a Rockwood, Tennessee couple, charging them with two counts of second-degree murder in the brothers’ death. The couple has also been charged with reckless endangerment, possession of marijuana with intent to sell, possession of drug paraphernalia, money laundering, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a felony.

Death By Distribution

Tennessee, just like at least 20 other states in the country, has enacted a death by distribution/drug-induced homicide law. Under Tennessee’s death by distribution law, an individual can be charged with second-degree murder if they sell or give someone fentanyl or carfentanil either alone or in combination with any controlled substance (per the Tennessee Drug Control Act of 1989) and that person dies because of those drugs.

When a person is charged with death by distribution, the prosecutor does not have to prove the individual acted with malice; they only need to prove that they supplied someone with the drugs that killed them.

Penalties for conviction of death by distribution charges in Tennessee are harsh. A first offense conviction can land someone in prison for up to 19 years. A second or subsequent conviction carries a sentence of up to 40 years in prison.

Do Death By Distribution Laws Work?

While prosecutors and law enforcement tout the effectiveness of these laws, there are many critics who say death by distribution laws actually make the drug issue even worse than it already is. For example, the law does not take into consideration that many people who sell drugs are often struggling with drug addiction themselves. Critics also point out that instead of targeting high-level drug traffickers, these laws end up being used to prosecute friends and family of overdose victims who also have drug problems.

There is also a concern that death by homicide laws undermine the Good Samaritan laws that many states have passed that are supposed to provide criminal immunity for low-level drug law crimes when a person calls 911 for medical help because someone they are with is overdosing. There have been cases where the person who calls for help is subsequently charged – and convicted – with death by distribution because they gave the lethal drugs to the person who died.

Contact a Knoxville Criminal Defense Attorney for Legal Assistance

If you are facing death by distribution – or any other drug crime charges – you need a dedicated Knox County drug crimes attorney aggressively defending you against these crimes. Call Jeffrey Coller, Knoxville Criminal Defense Lawyer today at 865-281-1000 to schedule a free consultation and find out how our firm can help.


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