Riverside and San Bernardino County prosecutors have started charging individuals accused of selling fentanyl that resulted in death to the user with murder. In Riverside County, the DA is currently prosecuting seven such cases against alleged fentanyl dealers and in San Bernardino County, the DA has filed a at least one murder charge against a fentanyl dealer. In Orange County, the district attorney has announced that his department will begin charging those drug dealers who have previously pled guilty to fentanyl sales and who later are accused with the fentanyl sales that causes a death with murder. (Similar to the Watson advisement, discussed below.)
In all counties, the charge is second degree murder based on the theory of implied malice. Under this theory, the murder need not be intentional. Rather, implied malice means that the conduct of the accused displayed a “conscious disregard for life.” In other words, the accused acted in a way that he or she knew could likely cause death but acted anyway.
There is an analogous law in the DUI statutes. A person who causes the death of another by his or her DUI driving can be charged with second degree murder under the implied malice theory. Under the DUI law, when a person is arrested for DUI, an advisement be given to the offender that puts the offender on notice that driving under the influence can result in the death of another person and if the offender is involved in a DUI fatality in the future, he or she can be charged with second degree murder. This advisement is called a Watson Advisement and is mandated by law.