If Your Kids Get to Your Stash, You’re Probably Going to JailWhat if your child got into your stash? Perhaps it was a bottle of pain pills or even weed. They overdose. While you are suffering from incredible grief for such a terrible tragedy, you learn you are being charged with a crime. In fact, you could be charged with manslaughter in some states.

How is that a crime, and how is that going to help matters? It should not be a criminal charge, but that is not what is happening in some areas today.

Prosecutors are after anyone they can hold accountable

In their effort to find someone to blame, some prosecutors are taking parents to court, charging them with their child’s death. It happened in California: parents, both of whom are struggling with addiction issues, were charged with murder when their daughter got into their fentanyl. Murder.

Look – I get that there’s a drug issue in this country. I do. But this is a double tragedy: those parents didn’t set out to kill their daughter. These are people with an addiction – people, it seems, no one was super concerned about beforehand. No one appears to have been lining up to help them get clean, or help their child. What happened to that little girl is everyone’s worst nightmare, but it was not murder. And to say that it is puts us on a very slippery slope.

Consider what could happen over time

As prosecutors push this type of legal action, the risks can easily spiral out of control. These types of laws aim to target any drugs or any substance that causes an overdose. That could be fentanyl, or it could be prescription drugs.

Here are some plausible scenarios:

  • Your teenage son waits until you fall asleep, and then steals your whiskey and your car keys to go party with friends. He causes a fatal accident. You get charged with murder.
  • You have friends over the house, and their younger kids go rifling through your medicine cabinet. They find your weed gummies and they eat them. One of the kids has a rare allergy to THC and goes into anaphylactic shock. You get charged with murder.
  • Your child is running a fever. You haven’t slept at all. You thought you grabbed the aspirin but you actually grabbed the bottle of painkillers you had left over from some dental work. It’s contraindicated with the medication your child is taking. You get charged with murder.
  • You’ve spent most of your life struggling with addiction. You’ve tried meetings and rehab, and the only thing that’s helping at all is suboxone. You forget to move it off the nightstand and your child takes it. You get charged with murder.

Think I’m being too “the sky is falling”? Two parents just got convicted of manslaughter because their kid shot up his school. The mom? She’s going to prison for, like, 15 years because she didn’t think her kid was a murderer, so she didn’t treat him like one.

So yeah, maybe I’m being a little overcautious about this – or maybe I just see the writing on the wall here. These prosecutors are out for blood, and they don’t care that you might be grieving your own loss. They’re not gonna care that there’s no word in the English language for a parent whose child dies before them because the concept is just so awful we can’t label it.

What they’re going to care about – especially in states where they’re elected instead of appointed – is looking like they’re “tough on crime.”

Does Maryland’s Good Samaritan law apply when kids overdose?

Probably not, though it might protect folks in some of the situations I described. The Good Samaritan law “protects people assisting in an emergency overdose situation from arrest, as well as prosecution, for certain crimes.” But those are really specific misdemeanor crimes:

  • 5-601: Possessing or Administering Controlled Dangerous Substances
  • 5-619: Drug Paraphernalia
  • 5-620: Controlled Paraphernalia
  • 10-114: Underage Possession of Alcohol
  • 10-116: Obtaining Alcohol for Underage Consumption
  • 10-117: Furnishing for or allowing underage consumption of alcohol

AND it only protects people who are basically witnessing an overdose and who step up to help.

What penalties can parents face for their child’s use of drugs?

We may not have any laws that send parents to prison for manslaughter, but parents can still face criminal charges if their kids take drugs. Under MD. Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code § 3-828, “An adult may not willfully contribute to, encourage, cause or tend to cause any act, omission, or condition that renders a child in need of assistance.” It’s a misdemeanor charge, but it carries a hefty fine (up to $2,500) and potential jail time (up to three years). Folks sometimes think this law only applies when parents purposely give their kids drugs or alcohol, but some DAs will argue that any parent who brings an illegal substance into the home and doesn’t lock it up fits the parameters.

And for what it’s worth, all of this? This is only criminal law: parents can be held liable in civil courtrooms, too. We’re responsible for our kids, plain and simple.

How can I protect my kids?

For a parent who may be battling addiction, that disease is in control most of the time. But as hard as it may be, if you cannot stop using those substances, you should find a way to do so somewhere far away from your children and keep substances out of your home. As your kids get older, educating them on the real risks – not just of those substances but also about the legality of crimes like these – could be critical to protecting them and yourself in the long term.

And if you need help with your addiction, get it. There’s no shame in seeking help. If you’re in crisis, call 9-8-8. The Maryland Department of Human Services Social Services Administration (DHS/SSA) has a lot of resources. So does the Anne Arundel County Department of Health.

But if you need help with a criminal charge, definitely don’t wait: time is not on your side. I’ve been a drug defense lawyer in Annapolis a long time, and I know what the stakes are. You’re gonna need help and you’re gonna need it fast.

Anytime you are facing a legal battle, you need to arm yourself with an Annapolis criminal defense attorney who knows how to protect your rights and fight for you in these very difficult cases. Call Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law or fill out the contact form to schedule your consultation at the office in Annapolis or Ellicott City.

And remember – Keep Calm and Call Drew!