THE MICHAEL JACKSON HOMICIDE???
By: Karen DeSoto
A few days ago, Los Angeles Police Chief Bratton reported that Michael Jackson's death could be a homicide. Say what?? How could an overdose of medication be a criminal act? Let us ignore the emotional impact on millions of fans but instead put the possibility of criminal liability in proper perspective.
Homicide is largely defined as the unlawful killing of a human being, but as with most crimes, culpability is viewed in varying degrees. First-degree murder carries the heaviest of penalties: life imprisonment (with or without the possibility of parole) and death. And the reason the type of homicide we call murder carries such tough penalties is that murder is not just killing---it is killing with malicious intent and planning: say, stalking someone, hiding in the bushes, and shooting him more than once to make sure he's dead.
But there are other crimes involving the death of a victim that do not rise to the charge of murder. For example, you go out with a co-worker for happy hour and have one too many martinis---it was a rough day and you figured you deserved an extra jigger. Then you get in your car, lose control and mow down and kill a family of four coming home from Little League practice. You didn't mean to do it, you were never in trouble before, and you're terribly sorry---but you are going to jail. However, it is precisely because you didn't mean to do it that the law considers the killing to be a lesser crime than murder.
In the Michael Jackson case, under California law, manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being without malice, and there are three kinds: voluntary, involuntary and vehicular. Involuntary manslaughter is the killing of a human being, without malice, during the commission of an unlawful act that isn't a felony or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection.
For example, a doctor injects an obviously unhealthy or drug addicted patient with a controlled dangerous substance. The patient dies an hour after the injection. This could easily be medical malpractice, but the jump from medical malpractice to criminal liability is not far. Most jurors would likely agree that the doctor committed a criminal act. After all, doctors are held to a higher standard and mistakes made are often judged harsher than that co-worker having had one too many.
Over the decades we have heard the tales of celebrities and their untimely deaths, and as the list gets longer, the public cry---and the need---for increased liability for those responsible gets stronger. A doctor's oath is easily disregarded in exchange for the most powerful drug of them all—money.
If Michael Jackson's toxicology report comes back with multiple traces of various dangerous but prescribed substances present, then the criminal liability will increase for his treating physicians.
Despite his personal weaknesses, Michael Jackson was beloved by many, and as with any celebrity, the public demands answers. Michael joins an impressive list of untimely celebrity deaths: Heath Ledger, Judy Garland, River Phoenix, John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley, Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Freddie Prinze, Janis Joplin, Mama Cass Elliot, Babe Ruth, Otis Redding, Ann Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, Vincent Van Gough, Henri De Toulouse Lautrec. And the list goes on…