A bill that seeks to change the burden of proof in first-degree murder cases involving drug overdose deaths began moving through the Senate on Monday as the 2022 legislative session is set to kick off. The measure (SB 190), sponsored by Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, was approved in a 7-3 vote by the Judiciary Committee.
The bill involves murder cases against people who illegally distribute drugs. Currently, prosecutors must prove that a particular drug was the “proximate cause” of an overdose death. Under Brodeur’s bill, they would have to prove that a drug was a “substantial factor.” Brodeur told the committee that prosecutors have reported difficulty in such cases because “very frequently victims have multiple substances” in their systems when they overdose.
“In moving from proximate cause to substantial factor, what we’re saying is, rather than getting a battle of the experts that have to prove that this (drug) was the actual cause of death versus something else in your system, as long as there was enough of this one by itself to cause death, that’s enough for prosecution. And that makes it much simpler,” Brodeur said.
But Nancy Daniels, a lobbyist for the Florida Public Defender Association, argued that the measure would take away the incentive for people to report overdoses “if they know that there’s a possible death penalty prosecution” that could result. “We think it’s unconstitutional, because it’s a vague standard that has not been used in other criminal statutes,” Daniels said. The bill also would add methamphetamine to the list of drugs that can be eligible for first-degree murder charges in overdose deaths. That list currently includes such substances as cocaine, opium and fentanyl.
The proposal also would toughen penalties for selling controlled substances within 1,000 feet of facilities that provide substance abuse treatment. A similar House Bill (HB 95) needs approval from the House Judiciary Committee before it could go to the House floor for consideration. The legislative session will start Tuesday.
–News Service of Florida