New Bill – Meth Dealers Eligible for the Death Penalty?

February 22, 2022 Criminal Defense, Drug Charges

A new bill has been proposed in Florida that could potentially make it possible—and much easier—to charge drug dealers with first-degree murder. The bill specifically covers the distribution of methamphetamine, and the penalties would result in extremely strict outcomes, such as life in prison or even the death penalty.

Florida Statute Section 782.04 covers murder, which is the unlawful killing of a human being. The statute currently covers the unlawful distribution of illegal substances, when such substances or mixture is proven to be the proximate cause of death of the user. The following is a current list of illegal substances:

  • Cocaine
  • Opium or any synthetic or natural salt, compound, derivative, or preparation of opium
  • Alfentanil
  • Carfentanil
  • Fentanyl
  • Sufentanil

Murder in the first degree is considered a capital felony. Under Florida Statute Section 775.082, a person who has been convicted of a capital felony shall be punished by death if the proceeding held to determine the sentence results in a determination that such person shall be punished by death. Otherwise, the person shall be punished by life imprisonment and shall be ineligible for parole. 

Adding methamphetamine to the list of substances for first-degree murder would mean that, if the person dies after purchasing the illegal substance, the dealer would be charged with first-degree murder. This conviction would result in life in prison without parole, or potentially the death penalty.

It’s clear that potential passage of the bill is a very big deal in Florida. Arguments back and forth debate whether stricter penalties will help prevent the distribution and use of illegal drugs, or if it will just fill up prisons with low-level dealers without providing substantial help. The bill and public opinion surrounding the bill will be explored as well as options and resources for help.   

What is the Bill?

SB 190 is the new bill proposed by Senator Brodeur from Lake Mary. It was approved 10-6 by the Senate Rules Committee on February 15th, 2022. The bill is titled “Controlled Substances” and states that it would be revising the elements that constitute the capital offense of murder in the first degree. It also prohibits specific activities involving controlled substances within 1,000 feet of specified facilities.

Under the proposed law, methamphetamine would be added to the list of controlled substances enumerated in the 1972 law that makes drug dealers subject to first-degree murder charges when the product is the “proximate” cause of death in a fatal overdose.

The bill is being referred to as a diluted version of a similar proposal. The original proposal was meant to charge any drug dealer with first-degree murder if a person had died from an overdose after purchasing drugs from them.

The main difference between the original and the newly proposed bill is down to wording. In the original proposal, the phrase “proximate cause” was replaced with “substantial factor.” According to experts, changing the wording would help to eliminate the common issue the prosecution faces where there are traces of multiple illegal substances in the blood of a deceased victim, making them unable to determine what the proximate cause of death was.

What are the Responses?

Conflicted opinions have arisen since the proposal of the bill. Dealing with drug dealers has been an ongoing issue that lawmakers have been trying to solve for years. On one hand, people believe that there should be better access to treatment, rather than harsher punishments. On the other, there are those who believe in harshly punishing offenders in the name of public safety.

Brodeur claims that the new measures within the bill would only be addressing one aspect of a much bigger issue. “This deals with the very narrow section of law enforcement. We know we need more education; we know we need more treatment; we know we need more recovery.”

Brodeur believes that the measures would allow prosecutors to receive the leverage needed to convince street dealers to give over information on their bigger suppliers. “By putting penalties on some of the smaller guys, we are able to find out who some of the bigger guys are,” Brodeur claims.

However, opposing opinions arise from Jacksonville Sen. Audrey Gibson. She fears that the measure would still allow the wholesale dealers to continue selling deadly drugs in neighborhoods, and only fill up prison space with the lower-level dealers.

“Let’s target the big guys,” Gibson suggests. “And let’s help the little guys get treatment.”

Another aspect that has been argued about is the new provision to add drug treatment centers to various areas in the community. Included areas would be churches, playgrounds, schools, and other areas that are typically considered “drug-free” zones. These specific areas are highlighted with enhanced penalties if the possession or sale of drugs takes place on the grounds.

Gov. Ron DeSantis created the statewide Task Force of Opioid Abuse back in 2019, which is where the provision had been recommended from.

St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes claims that the new measures would only continue the failed work of the “war on drugs.” “One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” Brandes says. “This policy doesn’t work.”

What Happens Next?

For now, proposed bill SB 190 heads to the Senate floor for further debate. There is also the companion House Bill, HB 95, from Representative Scott Plakon from Longwood that was cleared through the Judiciary Committee by a clear majority on February 13th, 2022. The 60-day session adjourns on March 11th. With opposing opinions on both sides, it will be interesting to see how the potential bill progresses.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Drug crime charges can have serious consequences. From expensive fines to time spent in prison, getting convicted of a drug crime has life altering effects. With the newly proposed SB 190 bill, these consequences can reach even more severe heights. If you or a loved one have been accused of a drug crime of any kind, it is in your best interest to reach out to a skilled Tallahassee criminal defense attorney.

Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience working with drug charges of all kinds. They have represented clients all over the state of Florida from all walks of life. Our attorneys understand what it takes to defend your case and will make it their priority to ensure you get the best possible legal help. Call (850) 681-7777 today or send an online message and receive a free consultation regarding your case.

 Written by Karissa Key

Back to Top