Stiffer penalties for fentanyl dealers stand ready for governor’s signature
The measure making it easier for prosecutors to indict drug dealers for murder or attempted murder when customers overdose now makes its way to Gov. DeSantis’s desk following its successful passage in the Florida Senate May 2.
The upper chamber took up HB 365 filed by Rep. Rachel Plakon, R-Lake Mary, which House members passed on an 85-28 vote April 26.
Senate companion sponsor Jason Brodeur, a Lake Mary Republican, said this legislation would make the penalty for providing drugs that lead to a first-time overdose a second-degree felony, and the penalty for a second overdose a first-degree felony.
“This will help law enforcement protect our communities through this unprecedented drug overdose crisis,” Brodeur said.
Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, tried to amend the bill to make the penalty more akin to a DUI manslaughter charge.
“As it stands in the bill, the punishment is capital murder, the highest-level crime in our state,” Rouson said. “It seems to me that selling or otherwise distributing drugs with no intent to kill someone who is also a participant in the interaction does not rise to that level.”
Brodeur said while Rouson had good intentions behind his amendment, there’s good reason to change the statute from approximate cause standard to substantial factors.
“Very frequently, when someone overdoses or dies there are multiple substances in their body,” Brodeur said. “This just said that there was enough fentanyl, heroin, or heroin derivative in there that is substantial enough for prosecution.”
Brodeur said Rouson’s amendment was “unfriendly, unnecessary, and guts the intent of the bill.”
Rouson said that was clearly his intent.
“Senator, you’re right,” Rouson said. “It guts the bill, which is the intent behind the amendment, but it also brings balance. None of this is to say that these actions should not be punished.”
Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Hollywood, asked if there was a threshold amount in a toxicology report that rises to a particular level.
Brodeur said while a threshold isn’t contemplated in the bill, medical examiners will be given the authority to determine the cause of death.
“What the medical examiners are seeing right now is that when somebody passes from a drug overdose very frequently there are multiple substances in their body and it’s very difficult for prosecutors to get a conviction if there’s any secondary substance in there,” Brodeur said.
Brodeur explained that if the bill becomes law, it will assist law enforcement and medical examiners to say a particular substance alone was enough to cause death.
During a committee stop in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice March 21, Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, offered an amendment to clarify that those who seek medical assistance for an individual experiencing an alcohol or drug-related overdose are afforded “Good Samaritan Law” protections under F.S. §893.21.
Ingoglia was pleased that this language made it to the Senate floor.
“I want to thank you for working with me to get the Good Samaritan language in there,” Ingoglia said. “It was important to me and to others.”
Sen. Lori Berman, a Boynton Beach Democrat, renewed her objection. Berman voted down on the measure during its Fiscal Policy Committee stop.
“I’m very worried about the unintentional consequences if someone on a college campus takes Adderall and they share with a friend and then that friend dies from fentanyl are they going to be subject to capital punishment?” Berman asked. “There are just too many unintended effects.”
Brodeur said the measure is intended for “those who are causing the real problem” and is confident prosecutors won’t be going “after the kids sitting on the couch for murder.”
The measure passed 31-6.