The House Judiciary Committee OK’d a sweeping bill Thursday to broaden a law that allows prosecutors to pursue stiffer penalties against drug dealers whose product results in the death of a consumer.
Under state law, a drug dealer in Florida faces the possibility of death or life in prison if they sell a controlled substance that is deemed the “proximate cause” of an overdose death.
Prosecutors, however, often struggle with cases involving multiple controlled substances or alcohol.
The proposal (HB 95) — sponsored by Longwood Republican Sen. Scott Plakon — would allow authorities to levy a first degree murder charge if a controlled substance is instead considered a “substantial factor” in a person’s death.
The bill also adds methamphetamine to the list of prosecutable controlled substances and stiffens penalties against drug sales within 1,000 feet of a substance abuse treatment center.
Lawmakers OK’d the measure with a 14-6 vote.
“There’s communities all across our state struggling with how to deal with this,” Plakon said of the opioid crisis.
Several Democrats, including Rep. Andrew Learned of Brandon, took issue with the measure. Learned said he agreed with most portions of the bill. He objected, however, with the mandatory minimum associated with first degree murder in overdose cases.
“We don’t have to lock a 19-year-old up until he dies at the age of 95, (who) you and I have to pay for in the Justice Appropriations Committee for the next 100 years,” Learned said.
Republican. Rep Chuck Brannan of Lake City, however, emphasized the need for the bill. A former law enforcement officer, Brannan explained the complexity of determining a cause of death.
He proposed the following scenario: If a person is shot twice simultaneously by two gunmen — once in the heart and once in the head — what is the proximate cause of death? A gunshot wound to the chest? Or a gunshot wound to the head?
“The (medical examiner) is gonna have a hard time determining what the proximate cause of death was…” Brannan said, later adding: “They’ll both kill him and they’ll both kill him just as good.”
Other Democrats, meanwhile, voiced concerns with lowering the legal standard for a first degree murder charge.
“When you’re talking about restraining somebody’s personal freedom and locking them up, there are certain standards that must be proven,” said Ranking Member Fentrice Driskell.
The House Judiciary’s affirmative vote marks the bill’s final committee appearance. If passed in both chambers and signed into law, the measure would take effect Oct. 1.