Florida’s Drug-Induced Murder Laws May Hurt Communities
Are drug dealers considered murderers when their clients overdose? This is a hot topic in America’s former “Pill Mill Capital,” where opioid deaths continue to climb. Twenty states have similar laws on the books, but Florida set the trend in 1982 during the culmination of the War on Drugs. These laws aim to reduce the fast-growing pace of opioid deaths, but there’s been no evidence to suggest they’ve helped curb the use of these drugs in the areas most ravaged by the opioid epidemic.
In 2017, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that 47,600 people died from opioid-induced overdoses, with fentanyl accounting for up to 60% of that total. The sharp increase in fentanyl deaths pushed several law enforcement agencies to treat some overdoses as homicides rather than accidents.
Florida lawmakers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and others are trying everything they can to save people who are addicted to opioids, even if that means treating drug dealers, who often need addiction treatment, like killers. The efficacy of this approach has already raised questions and drawn criticism from organizations advocating for drug policy reform.
How Do You Establish a Murder Charge in Florida’s Courts?
The number of drug dealers facing murder charges for selling fentanyl to people who ended up overdosing is increasing throughout the Sunshine State. Drug dealers have been charged with first-degree murder, a capital felony charge, after the death of a client. Often, these drug deaths involved fentanyl-laced heroin, which is visually indistinguishable from pure heroin. Many drug buyers and even dealers don’t realize their product contains traces of fentanyl, which delivers a more powerful high but can also be 50 times more potent than heroin alone. If a user dies from a lethal dose, the police are now going after his dealer, who often could not have predicted the user’s death.
Understanding First-Degree Murder and the Issue of Intent
A first-degree murder charge is the most severe murder charge anyone can face. It’s known as a capital felony because capital punishment may be on the table at sentencing. While no case of a drug dealer being put to death over a client’s overdose death is known to date, a handful of drug dealers are currently serving life sentences.
Although tragic, a drug-induced death rarely occurs from premeditation. Yet, this is now an acceptable charge for drug dealers who have sold lethal doses of hard drugs with or without knowledge of doing so.
First-degree murder is an intentional murder that is willful and premeditated. Prosecutors may also apply first-degree murder charges in cases where a defendant was involved in the commission of a felony, such as robbery, burglary, rape, or arson, and a death resulted from the offense. Critics of charging drug dealers with first-degree murder cite the issue of intent as one of their main concerns about this practice. They find that intent would be nearly impossible to prove in the case of a drug dealer selling a lethal dose.
How is “Intent” Defined in Criminal Law?
Intent is a determination to perform a particular act or to act in a particular manner for a specific reason. Intent is a resolution to use a certain means to reach a result. In criminal law, specific intent refers to a state of mind that seeks to accomplish the precise act the law prohibits, like a specific intent to commit rape. When proving a felony, the prosecution must show that the defendant purposely or knowingly committed the crime they’re being charged with.
General intent is the intent to do what the law prohibits. It’s not necessary to prove that a defendant intended the exact sequence of events that occurred. Instead, the law infers that the defendant had a general intent to break the law. As an example, a person who kills someone else with a gun while intoxicated may not have intended to shoot the person, but he may have had a general intent to kill him. It’s a stretch to suggest that intent extends to drug dealers who often sell drugs to support their own habit.
How Drug-Induced Murder Laws Hurt Vulnerable Communities
The public is increasingly aware of the damage caused by the War on Drugs and generally understands how modern drug policies have done more harm than good. Critics of applying murder charges to drug dealers know that, if we penalize drug dealers with a life sentence or the death penalty, many people will be scared to report an overdose. If fewer people report overdoses and seek treatment, the number of preventable drug deaths will rise, not fall.
For years we’ve seen that increasing the penalties for drug crimes doesn’t make a dent in reducing those drug-related criminal activities. Drug dealers will continue to sell drugs to support their habits if they lack easy and affordable access to addiction treatment. Locking them up for life will do nothing to stop another drug dealer from taking over the previous dealer’s turf and maintaining the flow of illicit drugs to the community.
Others point out that blaming drug dealers for the deaths of addicts does nothing to hold victims accountable for their own actions. Unlike sexual assault, batteries, and non-drug-induced murders, victims of drug overdoses actively sought the substance that ended up killing them and consciously chose to put it in their bodies. Does this not absolve drug dealers of some of the blame?
Seeking Quality Representation for Drug Crimes in Orlando
Drug offenses typically incur severe punishments, even for non-violent offenses. Florida has some of the harshest penalties available for drug offenders, which is why if you’re facing a drug charge — whether for possession, distribution, or drug sales and delivery — you should hire a competent and aggressive criminal lawyer.
The attorneys with The Umansky Law Firm have more than 100 years of combined experience fighting drug charges in Orlando and nearby areas. Our lawyers are highly-regarded among judges, lawmakers, prosecutors, and others in the criminal sphere. We are Board Certified Criminal Trial Lawyers and Death Penalty Certified Lawyers who passionately defend people facing criminal charges. Call our office for a free consultation 24/7 or complete our contact form.