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Defendant cleared of high-stakes assault charge in drug deal

A criminal defendant from nearby Wichita, Kansas, has been acquitted of felony murder in connection with a deadly drug deal. The defendant was accused of causing the fatal assault during an exchange in which marijuana was sold. However, the man's family members and community rallied around him, arguing that his case should never have been considered in the violent crimes category that generally encompasses a felony murder charge.

The man in this case was tried under a law that expands the definition of felony murder to capture a larger group of defendants. That Kansas law states that anyone who participates in an illegal activity in which someone dies may be held accountable for felony murder, even if he or she is never accused of the use of a weapon or other assault charges. Charges ranging from drug trafficking to robbery may escalate to felony murder, even if the defendant did not participate in any activity that directly caused the victim's death.

In this case, the defendant was accused of felony murder in connection with the death of another man during a drug transaction. The defendant was reportedly the "middleman" in the sale. Prosecutors argued that the charges were appropriate because the defendant was accused of bringing a firearm to the sale, but it appears that he did not discharge the weapon and was not directly responsible for the violent crimes perpetrated against the victim.

This case has offered yet another reason for criminal defense advocates to push for the deescalation of charges connected with marijuana and other drugs of abuse. Although this particular crime involved violence, those advocates say that marijuana-related crimes should not automatically be lumped in with other, more serious accusations. The not-guilty verdict in this case is considered a win for those who promote more reasonable action against those accused of lower-level marijuana crimes.

The Kansas law may seem unfair, but defendants are often surprised by the nature of the charges that can be levied against them. Even if the use of a weapon is not evident, felony murder charges may be brought against a defendant who was simply present at the scene of a crime. This case demonstrates just how necessary it is to be fully prepared and educated about the nature of the charges brought against you.

Source: KAKE.com, "Kyler Carriker found not guilty of felony murder," July 30, 2015

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