A bill in the Ohio legislature could up the ante for anyone found guilty of dealing drugs. House Bill 508 proposes that anyone convicted of drug dealing could be subsequently charged with murder if someone who purchased drugs from that individual dies of an overdose. The bill was written in response to the fact that from the year 2000 to 2011, the state has seen a 329 percent increase in the number of overdose deaths. In fact, in 2007, the leading cause of death by injury was from drug poisoning.

According to the bill, if an adult dies in such a manner, that person’s “drug dealer” must serve at least 20 years of a life sentence before becoming eligible for parole. If the individual who overdosed was under the age of 18, that minimum sentence rises to 25 years. This type of legislation is not unique to Ohio. Several other states have similar laws.

In Florida, anyone convicted under statutes similar to the proposed law in Ohio could pay the ultimate price by receiving the death penalty. It is unknown whether anyone has been convicted under these laws in other states. The proposed legislation here in Ohio could spark intense debate. An argument could possibly be made that no one forces individuals to purchase drugs or consume them.

If this bill passes, a conviction for drug dealing could leave an individual vulnerable to murder charges later. Of course, it will be necessary for prosecutors to prove who it was that sold the drugs to the deceased. Keeping abreast of new laws is paramount when forming a criminal defense because it is not just a matter of guilt or innocence, but whether the fundamental rights of an individual are safeguarded.

Source: cleveland.com, “New bill would allow murder charges against drug dealers in overdose deaths“, Jeremy Pelzer, March 27, 2014