- ALCOHOL-RELATED DEATH AT TSU
- PRIVATE ACTION FOR FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
- RAPE AT IOWA STATE?
- WARNING CRIMINAL SUSPECTS
- CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AT MIT
Newsletter > November 1998 > "ALCOHOL-RELATED DEATH AT TSU"
ALCOHOL-RELATED DEATH AT TSU
(Reprinted from Fraternal Law, January, 1984)
A Tennessee State University student died recently from alcohol poisoning at an off-campus party celebrating his fraternity initiation.
Van L. Watts, of Birmingham, Alabama, was a 20-year old junior in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He consumed so much alcohol at the party that he went to sleep and was found dead the next morning. Dr. Charles Harlan, Davidson County Medical Examiner, attributed the death to “drinking too much alcohol in too short a period of time.”
The autopsy report records alcohol content of 0.52 in the bloodstream. A blood alcohol content of 0.10 is considered legally intoxicated in Tennessee, and a content of 0.30 is physiologically deadly.
Section 39-6-915 of the Tennessee Code Annotated provides as follows:
“(a)Any person who shall sell, give away, or furnish to any other person for beverage purposes any intoxicating liquor, the drinking of which shall cause the death of any person, shall be deemed guilty of murder in the second degree; but if such person not being the manufacturer of such liquor, had no knowledge of the poisonous or injurious quality of such liquor, his offense shall be reduced to voluntary manslaughter***
(c) The offense defined in subsections (a) and (b) shall be deemed to have been committed by any person who shall sell, give away, or furnish any such liquor for beverage purposes, whether the person injured received same directly from him or indirectly.”
The death statute is probably intended to deal with bad “moonshine,” and was not intended to deal with a death caused by alcohol poisoning through the excessive consumption of noncontaminated beverages. Nonetheless, the statute probably requires that there be a thorough police investigation of this death.
The police have determined that the death was accidental. Mr. Watts was not forced to drink. There was no violence. Alcohol was not used in connection with the initiation that preceded the party.
It remains to be seen what position will be taken by the prosecuting attorney with respect to this event. He may argue that notwithstanding the obvious intent of the legislature, the language of the statute is broad enough to include a death caused by the abusive consumption of noncontaminated alcoholic beverages. Initially it was not known what beverage Mr. Watts had consumed, but it has been described as “straight alcohol.”
Tennessee law provides that the lawful drinking age is 19. Had Mr. Watts been under the lawful drinking age, the prosecuting attorney would also be investigating the possible violation of the general manslaughter statute of Tennessee which says:
“Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another without malice, either expressed or implied, which may be either voluntary or upon sudden heat, or involuntary, but in the commission of some unlawful act.” T.C.A. 39-2-221
This doctrine is statutory acceptance of the common law notion of misdemeanor – manslaughter that basically provides that if a person commits a misdemeanor which results in the death of another person, the misdemeanant is thereby guilty of manslaughter. If it is a misdemeanor to provide alcoholic beverages, as a general rule any violation of a statute wherein death ensues constitutes involuntary manslaughter if the violation of the statute be the proximate cause of death. Brown v. State, 201 Tenn. 50, 296 S.W. 2d 848 (1946).
The next time a fraternity chapter contemplates serving alcoholic beverages in violation of state law or serving alcohol to anyone who is already clearly intoxicated, the officers and advisors of the chapter should give some thought to the fate of the Tennessee engineering student who never made it through the fall quarter of his junior year.
In light of the recent alcohol-related deaths at several U.S. colleges and universities and the criminal prosecution of the fraternity chapter at M.I.T., Fraternal Law reprints this article to emphasize the long-standing nature of this problem and to highlight the serious consequences that can result to fraternities and their members by ignoring state law concerning underage drinking. All states have laws on the books that could lead to a criminal prosecution of individuals who illegally provide alcohol to someone who eventually dies as a result.