A Wyoming legislative committee on Wednesday advanced a proposed law that would allow for homicide charges against drug dealers whose customers overdose and die.
It’s already a drug-induced homicide in Wyoming if a person delivers illegal drugs to a minor and the young person dies. The charge is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Senate File 181 would expand that to include people who deliver fentanyl, heroin or methamphetamine to adults who die from the drug.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees changes to criminal law, gave a 4-1 vote of approval to advance SF 181 to the Senate floor, with Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, as the lone vote against it.
Case said he’s concerned there’s not a provision in the proposed law stipulating that a drug dealer needs to be knowingly distributing the implicated substances.
He questioned what could happen if a person running drugs doesn’t know what’s in them, or if the drugs are intercepted by another party by accident.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, said the bill is intended to be “pretty black-and-white” to give prosecutors latitude to charge drug dealers in a growing crisis.
“We’re seeing more adults (overdose) than we are minors,” said Schuler, adding that she brought the bill because law enforcement officials in her district and throughout the state have approached her about the growing dangers of drugs cut with dangerous substances.
Only adults can be charged under the bill, Schuler added.
“They know, if they’re an adult and they’re dealing, that this is a pretty serious thing,” said Schuler. “These drugs that we mention here are drugs that will kill other people.”
‘Horrendous’ Substances In Drugs
Sherry Martin, of Casper, testified in favor of a “stronger law” to address the issue, but drew attention to the distinction between addicts and dealers at the top of the market.
Martin said she has worked in corrective programs, including Bureau of Indian Affairs programs for American Indians in Wyoming.
“You have those inmates that come and really want help in addiction,” said Martin. “Then you have the flip side, criminal drug dealers.”
Martin said she’s heard inmates discuss and even laugh about what they put in their products to cut costs.
“It’s horrendous what gets put in there,” she said.
Sen. Dan Furphy, R-Laramie, who voted to advance the bill, said he hopes it would deter that kind of heartless profiteering.
Sens. Ed Cooper, R-Tensleep, and committee Chairman Bill Landen, R-Casper, both voted to advance the bill as well, saying they hope the Senate can discuss and refine it to make it into a good law.
To Get Somebody High
Case voiced disagreement, indicating that the bill isn’t specific enough to address real malice.
“The dealer who came by (in a past case) maybe is a terrible human being, but he thought he was delivering stuff to get somebody high and serve their addiction,” said Case. “I understand we want to stop it, but I think our evidence in the drug war is we’re not stopping it with these penalties.”
Landen said he also is wrestling with those concerns. He said he empathizes with Schuler’s concern, since her district falls along the Interstate 80 corridor, which is often replete with drug trafficking.