Only once has a corporation been charged with murder in California, and that corporation just happened to be an addiction treatment facility. As of last week, the second degree murder case against a subsidiary owned by American Addiction Centers (AAC), is no longer going forward. A superior court judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to proceed.
Many in the industry might be concerned about the charges setting a precedent not just in California but in other states as well.
“It is rare for a corporation to be charged criminally for harm to an individual,” says Melissa Hamilton, JD, PhD, visiting criminal law scholar at the University of Houston.
Also, a corporation cannot serve jail time, so the punishment ultimately would be financial, Hamilton says.
“By bringing criminal charges against a corporation, that was big deal, but that had been dropped, so it indicates there is trouble in bringing criminal charges against a corporation,” she says.
However, Hamilton also says there is overarching deterrent value for the state in this case because, in essence, it serves as a warning to treatment centers that California is paying attention and those with questionable practices will be held accountable.
“So that’s still a win,” she says.
Rogue rehab report
The more than 1,200 treatment centers in California, at the very least, have been put on notice.
Many believed the original murder charge filed against AAC was a direct reaction from the California attorney general following a scathing state Senate report released in 2012. The report concluded that the state was not adequately monitoring treatment centers and sober living homes.
The report, “Rogue Rehabs,” from the California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes noted that the department in charge of regulating treatment facilities “consistently failed to catch life-threatening problems, and when it did, neglected to follow up to assure that dangerous practices stopped.” It went on to outline the details of several patient deaths in treatment facilities, including the death that prompted the case against AAC.
According to AAC, the corporation and four employees initially named in the murder case will still face dependent adult abuse charges, which are based on negligence, according to Hamilton.
She says the abuse charges are a lesser crime and could be easier for the prosecution to prove. Generally speaking, the prosecution will not have to prove what is known as “mens rea,” or a state of mind that indicates culpability, as was the case with the murder charges.
The hearing date is scheduled for April 1.
“We, along with the coroner, knew that the death was from natural causes. We will continue to build a national brand in the addiction space – one that puts the client first and one that has measurable outcomes,” Michael Cartwright, chairman and CEO of AAC Holdings, said in a statement.