Overdose Death Conviction Bill Approved

March 17, 2022 Criminal Defense

We previously covered a bill proposed in Florida that would potentially make it possible, and easier than ever before, to charge drug dealers with first-degree murder. Specifically, the bill enhances the penalties for distribution of methamphetamine charges, adding the controlled substance to a list created in 1972 of drugs that would make dealers liable for first-degree murder charges where the drug is the “proximate” cause of death in a fatal overdose. In 2020, officials reported that there were 1,273 methamphetamine fatal overdoses in Florida. Furthermore, 9,000 Floridians died in total due to a drug overdose.

HB 95’s Background

This bill was filed on September 13, 2021, by Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican Representative. Thereafter, it was added to various committee and subcommittee agendas. It was passed in the House of Representatives on February 24, 2022, by a 75 to 38 majority. It was then certified and sent to the Senate on the same day, where it was amended and passed as amended by a majority of 30 to 8 on March 4, 2022. Then the House passed as amended by a majority of 84 to 35 on March 11, 2022. Finally, the Senate passed as amended by a majority of 33 to 5 on the same day, where the bill then was ordered, engrossed, then enrolled by the House.

What Have the Amendments Added?

When the Senate finally approved the bill on March 11, it was an amended version. The bill originally wanted to change out “proximate cause” with “substantial factor,” an easier standard for prosecutors to prove when a victim dies of a fatal overdose. But the amended bill kept the proximate cause standard. In return, the amended bill provides for a(n):

  • Increase in the minimum mandatory sentences for trafficking between 4 and 14 grams of fentanyl from 2 to 7 years in prison.
  • Increase the penalty for trafficking between 14 and 28 grams from 15 to 20 years.
  • Addition to the enumerated substances in the 1972 statutes to include methamphetamine.
  • Taskforce recommendation to enhance drug peddling penalties when it occurs within 1,000 feet of a drug rehabilitation facility.

The Reasoning Behind the Bill

Plakon said of the bill, “I’ve talked to numerous prosecutors and sheriffs, they say that they need to be able to convict [for] these crimes that are killing more and more,” in reference to fatal overdoses.  He added, “[t]his law is, I think, a reasonable step that we can do to try to address 100,000 Americans dying last year,” Plakon added. “And by the way, by the time we get home tomorrow, at least a dozen more Floridians will die of these drugs.”

But not everyone feels the same. Democratic Representative Fentrice Driskell called the bill a “slippery slope,” reasoning that lawmakers should refrain from lowering legal standards because citizens are concerned about fatal overdoses, stating “[t]he Constitution has to matter, due process has to matter, and when you put somebody on for murder, you have to meet the highest possible standards to do that.”

Republican Kelly Skidmore, a Democrat from Boca Raton, said that if the same number of manatees died a year as Floridians from a drug overdose, the public would take notice. “Please think about the 9,000 lives,” she stated, “[p]retend they’re dolphins, pretend that you’re trying to save a species, only this species is human.”

Overall, a bill sponsor, Senator Jason Brodeur, a Republican from Lake Mary, stated that “if you live by the mantra that when everybody is unhappy, you have a good compromise, then this is the bill.”

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one has been accused of a drug crime in Florida, contact a qualified Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience defending Floridians against drug charges and will explore each applicable defense in your favor. Contact us today at (850) 681 – 7777 or send an online message today to discuss your legal matter during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

Written by Gabi D’Esposito

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