Illegal act leads to an unrelated death. Negligence?

Sorry for the lousy title, I wasn’t sure how to word this.

For a story I’m writing, I need to know whether a character could be considered criminally negligent due to his illegal behavior that leads to someone else’s death – even though the death is pretty much unrelated and unforeseen by the main character.

Here’s the setup: a doctor writes a prescription for a controlled substance (a barbiturate) on behalf of a relative who’s addicted to said drugs. Later, without the doctor’s knowledge, the relative’s spouse ends up using the drugs to poison the relative.

Can the doctor be charged with anything other than falsifying a prescription? Perhaps criminal negligence? Accessory?

On the one hand I’m dubious that charges would be likely, since the doctor would hardly be expected to know the meds would be used by a third party.

On the other hand, since he knew the prescription wasn’t valid, he also knew these dangerous drugs were going to be used illegitimately no matter who had 'em. This does kinda make him seem liable, although that’s hardly a legal opinion.

Would the situation be any different if it was a gunshop owner giving a hunting rifle to a friend who lacks a license, thinking that the friend plans to use it for hunting – but then the friend’s wife ends up using the rifle in a murder?

In both cases we have a potentially lethal item that does have legitimate, legal purposes – and in both cases they’re being distributed illegally. So would either the gunshop owner or doctor be liable, either in a criminal or civil case?

Hope this makes some sense… Anyone have any thoughts?

IANAL, IANYL and I didn’t even read the Cliff notes to law school, so you’ll need someone else to give a definative answer.

However, from the Columbine High School Massacre

How does the doctor “know” that the prescription to the addicted relative is “illegitimate”?

Is there any legal requirement in any jurisdiction that someone buying a “hunting rifle” must have a hunting license?

Choie, you might want to look up the term “proximate cause,” which is a key to negligence law in the United States. (The key case is Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad.) Generally speaking, an intervening intentional act breaks the chain of cause.

Rock on! Thanks guys for the comments so far.

Because the medication is properly prescribed for a specific medical purpose – migraines – and the doctor knows the relative a) doesn’t get migraines that often, and b) is using them at a far greater rate than a normal user would. The doctor knowingly enabled his relative’s addiction.

This shows you how little I know about guns. I assumed a rifle requried a gun license of some kind. No? I was just trying to come up with an analogous example where a potentially lethal item with a specific legal usage might be used for deadly purposes, without the knowledge of the party of the first part, who gave it unlawfully but without intent to cause someone’s death. The hunting thing was the only analogy I could think of.

(Ugh, I know guns are a hot topic and I’m trying to stay away from any debate… let me tiptoe away from that topic pleeeease!)

Many thanks for the case cites TokyoPlayer and ascenray, especially to the latter regarding proximate cause. In truth I don’t want the doctor character to be liable for the murder caused by his dumbass behavior, but I want to cause problems for him by others who think he is ethically or morally responsible. (The doctor’s actually a sympathetic character these days, but his past is coming back to haunt him.)

Anyway if anyone can add more legal thoughts I’d be extremely grateful!

I would think this then becomes an ethics question rather than a legal one. As far as I know there’s no law against prescribing an addict the medication he’s addicted to, but there are huge ethical issues involved. The FDA and federal law governs most or all law relating to a doctor’s ability to write prescriptions as far as I know, but there may be state law too. Even if the prescription is “illegitimate” it’s not necessarily “illegal.”

A hunting license is permission from the state for a person to hunt. Basically the hunter pays the state for the right to kill a deer or some ducks or something. The hunting license itself is not a “gun license” (some hunters only bow-hunt, for instance, and may not even own a firearm) and has nothing to do with gun ownership. The license or permit to own the hunting rifle is completely separate from hunting.

Hi Otto! Thanks for clearing up my confusion on the gun issue. Okay, forget I mentioned it. Maybe a more apt analogy would’ve been … I dunno, a car rental agent allowing an underage person to rent a car, and then the underage person’s friend uses it to kill someone. Eh, screw the analogy idea altogether. I’m not helping things.

I’m pretty sure that prescription fraud is a crime for the doctor as well as the patient, if the doctor can be proven to have been aware of the misuse of controlled substances. Here’s one case, from the DEA website:

Of course, this is on a much grander scale than my humble doctor character, and he/his attorney could claim that the meds had a medical purpose. But things won’t be going that far.

In any event, the main issue is whether there might believably be a threat of action, civil or criminal, regarding the murder stemming from his distribution of the narcotics to his relative.

From Lexis/Nexis:

So using the above definitions, I do think there is at least an arguable civil case here. I’m sure a defense attorney would counter this by saying that there was an intervening cause – the relative’s spouse heretofore unknown murderous intentions – that couldn’t have been foreseen.

I think a jury would reasonably conclude that the doctor couldn’t have known someone would use these narcotics to intentionally cause a death.

Anyone who knows this legal stuff: Am I reading this correctly?