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Controlled Substances Homicide Explained

Did you know that under Washington State law, you could be charged with homicide if you give someone else a particular drug – legal or illegal – and they die as a result of using that drug? The crime is called “controlled substances homicide” and while it is a relatively unknown offense, it carries significant potential penalties.

Controlled Substances Explained

RCW 69.50.101(d) defines the term “controlled substance” as “a drug, substance, or immediate precursor” that is either included in Schedules I through V of Washington State's Uniform Controlled Substances Act (UCSA), or among other federal laws or commission rules. In the Revised Code of Washington, the UCSA Schedules are found at RCW 69.50.204-212. These schedules list dozens of drugs and other chemicals, including both illegal drugs and prescription medicines, whose manufacture and use are regulated by the government. Examples of substances that show up on these schedules include: ecstasy, aminorex (a now-withdrawn weight loss drug), hydrocodone, pentobarbital (a barbiturate used as a sedative and anesthetic), and clonazepam. These schedules are constantly being updated by Washington State's Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission, which has the authority under RCW 69.50.201(a) to add to, delete from, or reclassify the controlled substances schedules.

Homicide Explained

People often use the terms “homicide” and “murder” interchangeably, but they actually have slightly different meanings. “Homicide” is broadly defined as “the killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or omission of another.” Put another way, “homicide” is the unlawful killing of another human being. “Murder,” on the other hand, involves the unlawful killing of another human being with some additional malice or intent to kill. Thus, every murder is a homicide, but not every homicide is a murder. Washington State's definition of homicide reflects this, as RCW 9A.32.010 includes murder, manslaughter, and other excusable or justifiable homicides within the broader definition of “homicide.”

Controlled Substances Homicide

As mentioned earlier, you can be charged with controlled substances homicide in Washington State if you deliver a controlled substance to someone who subsequently dies from the use of that controlled substance. RCW 69.50.415(1) explains that any person who “unlawfully delivers a controlled substance” in violation of RCW 69.50.401(2), where the person receiving the substance subsequently uses it and dies, is guilty of controlled substances homicide. Having considered the meaning of a “controlled substance” above, let us consider the remaining three elements that make up this charge:

1. “Unlawfully…in violation of RCW 69.50.401”

Per RCW 69.50.415(1), you can only be guilty of controlled substances homicide if you “unlawfully” deliver a controlled substance “in violation of RCW 69.50.401(2)(a), (b), or (c).” RCW 69.50.401(2) is the section of the UCSA that lists the prohibited acts and penalties associated with the creation, delivery, and possession (with intent to manufacture or deliver) of certain controlled substances. Subsections (a), (b), and (c) of this statute cover all drugs in Schedules I, II, and III of the UCSA, as well as amphetamines and flunitrazepam (a particularly effective sedative often prescribed to treat insomnia). Therefore, if you deliver one of these controlled substances “unlawfully” – i.e., not as a doctor, pharmacist, or otherwise-allowed individual – you risk being charged with controlled substances homicide if the person you deliver the substance to uses it and subsequently dies from that use.

2. “Deliver”

Since RCW 69.50.415(1) states that you can be charged with controlled substances homicide if you unlawfully “deliver” a controlled substance, it is useful to note that the statute's definition of “deliver” is quite broad. According to RCW 69.50.101(f), “deliver” simply means the transfer of a substance from one person to another. It does not have to be a financial transaction where the substance is bought and sold – “deliver” will also include merely giving someone the controlled substance free of charge.

3. “Subsequently Dies from the Use”

Lastly, you can only be charged with controlled substances homicide if the person you delivered the controlled substance to (1) uses the substance, and (2) dies as a result of using the substance. If you deliver a controlled substance to another person and he or she does not use the substance, but dies somehow, you cannot be charged with controlled substance homicide. By the same token, if you deliver a controlled substance to another person and he or she uses the substance but does not die, clearly there has been no homicide and you cannot be charged with controlled substance homicide.


If a prosecutor feels they can prove all four elements of controlled substances homicide, they can charge you with a class B felony, according to RCW 69.50.415(2). A class B felony charge is the second highest felony charge in Washington State and, per RCW 9A.20.021(b), carries with it a potential penalty of up to ten years in a state correctional institution. If you are an adult, you could also face a fine of up to $20,000, either in lieu of, or in addition to, jail time.

“Let My Extensive Experience as a Former Prosecutor Work For You.”

The crime of controlled substances homicide includes a number of elements that prosecutors must prove in order for a person to be convicted of this serious felony. If you have been accused of controlled substances homicide, you need to speak with an attorney right away. Contact the Law Office of Steve Karimi today – our firm is dedicated to protecting your constitutional rights and freedom. Experienced criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi will take all measures necessary to fight for your legal rights and to advocate for your best interests. As a former prosecutor, he understands the options available to you and will use his experience to achieve the best possible resolution for you.

If you or a loved one has been accused of controlled substances homicide in Western Washington, contact the Law Office of Steve Karimi today at 206-660-6200 to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation.

Contact Us

If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

Seattle Defense Lawyer

Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.