Now that the Los Angeles Coroner has ruled Michael Jackson’s death a homicide, what charges will be contemplated by the Office of the District Attorney? Two charges are possible. A second degree murder charge is possible if it can be proved that injecting Jackson with the powerful anesthetic propofol was done under circumstances where the drug giver was actually aware of the risk of death from use of the drug but consciously disregarded that risk and unlawfully gave him the drug anyway. Involuntary manslaughter is possible where the lawful administration of the drug was conducted in a negligent manner. The punishment for second degree murder is 15 years to life in prison. Involuntary manslaughter is punishable by up to 6 years in prison. Other than punishment, the big difference between the two charges obviously concerns the state-of-mind of the defendant, whether he or she understood but ignored the actual risks involved with giving a person the drug. Presumably, a doctor would have a subjective awareness of the risks but at the same time would take actions to safeguard the patient’s welfare. The charge one would therefore expect to see in this case – if any -will be involuntary manslaughter. The circumstances relevant to determining what charge to file will include: who administered the drug, how they acquired the drug, whether they were aware of the nature and type of drug being administered, the side effects of the drug, their knowledge of the effects, the actual dosage, whether the drug was administered in a prudent and careful manner, and other factors that may bear on their subjective awareness of the dangers presented by the drug and on the issue of negligent supervision of the patient. The criminal defense attorney for Jackson’s cardiologist doctor, Conrad Murray, says his client gave Jackson nothing that “should have” killed him. In other words, the lawyer argues that the issue is whether an involuntary manslaughter occurred or no crime at all.
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