In Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Danielle Nicole Packer, Ms. Packer was convicted of third-degree murder after she drove under the influence of the inhalant DFE and caused an accident killing another driver.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania took up her case to decide whether huffing the inhalant DFE before driving is such a high risk that it justifies a murder charge.
Facts of the Case
Packer purchased the aerosol Dust-Off, which contains the chemical DFE which people huff to get high. Once in the car, Packer inhaled the DFE two to three times, in five-to-ten second bursts each time. While stopped at a red light, she took two additional two-second bursts from the Dust-Off can.
Following that, Packer’s demeanor became “zombified,” according to her passenger, who was also huffing from the Dust-Off cans.
She continued driving, eventually striking a vehicle head on and killing the driver of that vehicle.
The vehicle’s blackbox revealed that Packer took no evasive maneuvers, nor did she apply the brakes or throttle before impact.
DFE and DFE Use
The chemical DFE is short for 1,1-difluoroethane. The chemical is found in cans of Dust-Off, which is an aerosol spray used to clean computers, keyboards, and other electronic equipment.
People use DFE to get high, through a process called huffing. Huffing DFE leads to a short-term euphoric state.
The effects come on relatively fast but don’t last long. Indeed, evidence of DFE in the bloodstream is gone fast. For example, the amount of DFE found in Packer’s blood stream was relatively low. However, a state toxicologist testified at trial that DFE in the bloodstream has a short half-life, of only about 23 minutes. This means that half of the DFE in the blood is gone from the blood every 23 minutes.
DFE is a central nervous system depressant. Side-effects of DFE use include disorientation, dizziness, loss of muscle control, memory loss, slurred speech, and convulsions.
DFE and similar chemicals are referred to as inhalants, because they are inhaled.
The question for the Court was whether Packer’s actions in huffing Dust-Off before driving constituted sufficient malice to support the conviction of third-degree murder. Malice in this case means a conscious disregard for an unjustified and extremely high risk that actions might cause death or serious bodily harm.
Finding of Malice in Huffing DFE DUI
The Court had previously found that the decision to drive while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance does not by itself constitute malice.
The Court, however, distinguished a DUI from huffing DFE and your run-of-the-mill alcohol impaired DUI case.
The most important difference is that DFE can cause a person to lose consciousness, a state that is beyond your typical alcohol impairment. Packer had direct knowledge that DFE has this effect because she had used DFE somewhere between 10 and 30 times in the past and had lost consciousness a couple times.
Packer also knew that DFE’s effects were immediate, and she chose to drive after using and she chose to use while stopped at the red light.
We know what Packer knew because she told all this to the police.
Also, DFE is not meant for ingestion. Indeed, the Dust-Off cans even warn people not to use it as an inhalant. The Dust-Off company even puts bitter tasting chemicals in the cans to deter users.
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