The House has passed a bill that could open more drug dealers to the death penalty.
The bill (HB 95), sponsored by Longwood Republican Rep. Scott Plakon, would broaden a prosecutor’s ability to pursue a first-degree murder charge if a drug overdose leads to a person’s death. The House voted 75-38, mostly along party lines, to send the bill to the Senate Thursday.
Under current law, a drug dealer may face the death penalty — or life in prison — if they sell a controlled substance that verifiably caused the death of a consumer. But prosecutors often struggle to convict in cases involving multiple controlled substances or alcohol.
In addition to adding methamphetamine to the list of prosecutable controlled substances, the bill would lower the standard prosecutors must meet to levy a capital offense against a dealer. The state attorney would only have to show the drugs were a “substantial factor” in a person’s death.
No one has ever been put to death under the existing provision. But that fact did little to persuade critics.
The current law has been on the books for 50 years, Plakon told lawmakers.
“I’ve talked to numerous prosecutors and sheriffs,” Plakon said. “They say that they need this to be able to convict (for) these crimes that are killing more and more.”
Meanwhile, overdoses involving “drugs of death” have been increasing.
“This 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.”
During the House vote, Democratic Reps. Joe Casello and Matt Willhite voted with the majority as Republican Rep. Thad Altman voted with the minority.
Citing the late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Democratic Rep. Fentrice Driskell called the measure a slippery slope. Lawmakers shouldn’t lower the legal standards because Floridians are concerned about drug overdoses, she added.
“The Constitution has to matter, due process has to has to matter, and when you put somebody on for murder, you have to meet the highest possible standards to do that,” Driskell said.
While Brandon Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned supported adding methamphetamine to the list of drugs punishable under the statute, he objected to changing the threshold and making it a capital offense. However, he said the Senate version of the bill (SB 190), carried by Sanford Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur, includes a provision that takes fentanyl test strips out of the list of drug paraphernalia, a provision he supports.
“This bill could help save 8,000 deaths a year from fentanyl and all we have to do is take the Senate version,” Learned said.
The Senate is ready to take up the bill but is waiting for House members to send over their version.
In 2020, officials recorded 1,273 methamphetamine overdose deaths in Florida.
The bill also calls for drug dealers to face stiffer punishments if they’re caught selling a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of an abuse treatment center.
Throughout the committee process, the measure faced stiff opposition from activists and criminal justice reform groups, including the ACLU of Florida and the NAACP Florida State Conference.
The collective, among other arguments, warned the proposal will likely increase the amount of death penalty cases and appeals at a time when public opinion around the issue is mixed.
Jason Delgado of Florida Politics contributed to this report.
February 24, 2022 at 10:30 pm
When are people going to start taking responsibility for their own actions? The present existing laws are causing the overdoses. People are pursuing the harder cheaper drugs, and have no idea what their tainted with, because of the laws against the doctors, and their right to prescribe. Heroine and Katie are cheaper than any other drug now, so people go to those instead of opoid pills, marijuana etc. The laws rose the street value so high on those, that people become heroine or Katie addicts instantly instead. If someone OD’s today, it is because of the laws themselves. Wake up people, and give the doctors back their right to prescribe, and right to be doctors again.
February 25, 2022 at 8:44 am
This comment would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that people are dying.
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