Nov 7, 2011

Happy Monday Savvy Readers!!! Since the death of music icon Michael Jackson more than two years ago, there has been a lot of speculation as to what role, if any, Dr. Conrad Murray, the singer's personal physician played in his death. Today, a jury of Dr. Murray's peers decided his fate and found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Quite frankly, I expected a guilty verdict and I expected it to come much sooner than it actually came. Yet, I was surprised to hear people saying that they do not understand why/how Dr. Murray was convicted of a crime.

As a general disclaimer, I have never been licensed to practice law in the state of California and so nothing I say in this article constitutes legal advice. I am simply explaining the legal definitions and standards for a covinction of involuntary manslaughter in California and the evidence that the prosecution presented to support its claim that Dr. Murray was guilty of that crime.

I think the biggest misconception I have heard from people is that this conviction means that Dr. Murray intended to murder Michael Jackson. That is not the case. Keep in mind that Dr. Murray was not charged with murder. In most states, a murder conviction requires some form of intent, i.e. you intended to kill or seriously harm the victim (or someone else in cases of transferred intent). However, to secure an involuntary manslaughter conviction, the prosecutor only needs to prove that the defendant's behavior was reckless to the point that he knew or should have known that something bad might happen.

Now in Dr. Murray's case, the state held that the doctor behaved recklessly by providing the popstar with the drug Propofol.

Here's why:

1) You have to look at the legal relationship between the victim and the defendant. For the most part, as citizens of this country it is legal for you not to render aid to someone who is injured. What does that mean?? Let's say, I'm walking down the street and I see a person lying on the sidewalk and he is bleeding profusely from his head. Now the good, moral thing to do would be for me to stop and help him right?? Well, the law says I don't have to if I don't want to. I can keep walking past him and that is not a crime.

However, the law mandates that certain relationships require trust and in those situations, you have a duty to act. So, for instance, if the person lying on the sidewalk is my son, then I have a legal duty to help him.

Now in this case, doctors are held to a very high standard of care when they are dealing with their patients. And if you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Doctors have the education and the knowledge of what's good for you and what's not. We trust them almost implicitly. And they must live up to that trust.

Okay, so Dr. Murray had legal relationship with Michael Jackson and the law requires him to act in the singer's best interest. So the question then becomes, was providing the singer with propofol in his best interest??

To answer that we have to know a few things about this drug. First, propofol is a prescription drug, meaning it cannot simply be purchased off the street from the neighborhood weed man. So without a prescription, Michael Jackson would never have had access to the drug. Why is that important? We're not talking about an overdose of aspirin here. This drug is a surgical anaesthetic. The defense of course claimed that Michael Jackson injected himself with the fatal amount but the fact remains, that MJ would not have been able to inject himself with an overdose if Dr. Murray had not given him access to the drugs in the first place.

Secondly, in legal circles they commonly use a phrase called "the industry standard". We all understand that medicine is not an exact science, so most of the time there is no one right answer to a medical problem. However, there are certain standards that doctors abide by and when a doctor steps outside of that norm, then he opens himself up to legal liability.

Why does that matter in this case? Well in this case, the prosecution was able to establish that the industry standard when using propofol is that it is only appropriate to administer the drug in a hospital setting. Supposedly, the dangers of the drug are so great that any ethical doctor would only use the drug in a hospital setting where the necessary life saving equipment is readily available. So just by administering the drug to MJ at his home where there was no life saving equipment, Dr. Murray was breaking protocol. Is that all he did wrong?

Nope. Another brick in the state's case against Dr. Murray was his failure to properly supervise the administering of the drug. From his very first conversation with the police, Dr. Murray seemed intent on characterizing Michael Jackson as an addict of the drug. During police questioning, he repeatedly stated that Michael Jackson requested the drug and that he could not sleep without it. Therefore, the prosecution claimed it was reckless of the doctor to buy such large quantities of the drug and then leave an "addict" alone with the drug.

In essence, I think the prosecution and the jury got it right in this case. There is no evidence that he intended to for any harm to come to MJ so I don't think a murder charge was warranted. But as a doctor, who knew just how dangerous the drug was and since he already believed Michael Jackson was addicted to the medication, his behavior in supplying the pop icon with large quantities of the drug and then leaving him unsupervised was definitely reckless.

To the people who say that the pop singer brought it on himself, I think you really have to understand the relationship between doctor and patient. Think of it this way, if your kid really really liked to drink gasoline, would you pour him a glass?? No, because you know that it's dangerous for him.

Lastly, people question whether or not Dr. Murray is being punished simply because his patient was Michael Jackson. I guess I see it this matter who his patient was he acted recklessly and he should be criminally liable for that. At the same time, I believe we have become a society obsessed with celebrities and I think that the only reason that Dr. Murray risked his medical license, his livelihood, and his freedom was because he wanted to be MJ's doctor more than he wanted to be a good doctor. And I do think there has been some bias against him. I was completely shocked when the judge remanded him today especially when he said that he felt that Dr. Murray was a threat to public safety... uh, he gave someone too much medication, he wasn't out doing drive bys.... As far as him doing actual jail time, it will definitely be interesting to see if that happens.

Rest In Peace Michael Joesph Jackson


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