BOSTON (SHNS) – Punishment for people who distribute drugs that cause the death of the user is shaping up as an issue that will have to be decided by House and Senate negotiators as the branches have taken divergent approaches in their criminal justice bills.
At least three proposals for punishing people who cause death by illegally distributing drugs have been proposed. The governor and House Republican leaders are aligned in their approach, a House member submitted his own proposal and the Senate has approved its own language.
Gov. Charlie Baker proposed, as part of a larger bill (S 2158), a penalty of up to life in prison and the requirement of a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years. House Minority Leader Brad Jones and other GOP leaders filed that same language as an amendment to the House criminal justice bill (H 4011). Jones’ amendment (# 121) has not yet been considered by the House.
“In order to ensure that accountability, this legislation establishes enhanced penalties that directly target those who cause death by illegally selling drugs. No new conduct would be made illegal,” Baker wrote when he filed his bill in August. “When illegal drug distribution causes a death, laws that were designed to punish the act are inadequate to recognize the seriousness of the resulting harm.”
The Baker bill and Jones amendment would punish anyone who “manufactures, distributes, or dispenses heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine, lysergic acid diethylamide, phencyclidine (PCP) or any other controlled substance” in classes A, B or C in situations where the “injection, inhalation or ingestion of the substance is an antecedent but for which the death would not have occurred.”
Andover Republican Rep. James Lyons filed an amendment that would extend manslaughter charges — which can carry a penalty of not more than 20 years — to anyone “found guilty of trafficking heroin or fentanyl that results in the death of the user.” That amendment was effectively rejected when Democrats tied it to a study order during the first day of consideration of its criminal justice bill Monday.
The Senate approved an amendment from Minority Leader Bruce Tarr that would allow second-degree murder charges to be levied against people who knowingly traffic drugs that result in death before passing its own criminal justice bill (S 2200) late last month.
The language OK’ed by the Senate would punish “any person while in the course of trafficking or unlawfully distributing a controlled substance … who knowingly or intentionally manufactures, distributes, dispenses, delivers, gives away, barters, administers or provides any amount of a controlled substance or counterfeit substance which results in death…”
The House resumed deliberations on its criminal justice bill Tuesday at noon. A final vote on the full bill is expected later Tuesday.