House approves Kristen’s Law
STATE HOUSE – The House of Representatives today approved Kristen’s Law, a bill sponsored by Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello to strengthen penalties for dealers who sell fatal drug doses.
The bill (2018-H 7715Aaa), which now goes to the Senate, specifies that any person convicted of unlawfully selling illicit substances that result in a person’s death shall be sentenced to up to life in prison.
“Our state is in the midst of a very serious opioid epidemic, much of which is fueled by powerful fentanyl that is being mixed, unbeknownst to the user, with other drugs. People are dying on a regular basis here in Rhode Island from lethal drugs that, in many cases, they never intended to take. Kristen’s Law is to serve as a strong deterrent to dealers by holding them accountable for profiting from this deadly scourge. It is one element of the multi-faceted effort to address this complicated crisis, and it gives law enforcement a tool they need to do their part,” said Speaker Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston).
The legislation, which the speaker introduced at the request of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, is named after Kristen Coutu of Cranston, who died as a result of a deadly dose of fentanyl in 2014. Aaron Andrade, the dealer who sold nearly pure fentanyl to her in what was supposed to be a dose of heroine, pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in her death, becoming the first Rhode Island drug dealer convicted of murder in connection with an overdose death.
Rhode Island does not currently have the necessary statute to address all instances of unlawful drug deliveries that result in death. The only provisions of the General Laws that may be applicable to a drug delivery death resulting are first-degree felony murder and second-degree murder, which do not always apply.
Under the bill, controlled substance delivery resulting in death would be a new charge available to prosecutors, although a similar statute already exists for those who provide lethal drugs to minors.
The bill was amended to clarify that its intent is to hold drug traffickers accountable, in order to address concerns that those suffering with substance use disorders would be subject to criminal prosecution.
The amendment also made it clear that the Good Samaritan law shall be applicable to the section, meaning that individuals who seek medical assistance for someone experiencing a controlled substance overdose shall not be charged or prosecuted for violations of the section, if the evidence for the charge was gained as a result of the seeking of medical assistance.
An additional amendment was added today to clarify that the statute applies to those who sell drugs, not individuals who shared drugs with the victim.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, more than 35 states have statutes that provide for criminal liability in a drug overdose death. The federal government and 20 states have drug-induced homicide statutes in some capacity. In fact, if a delivery resulting in death was charged under federal law, the deliverer would be subject to up to life imprisonment with a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years.
The Senate has approved companion legislation (2018-S 2279A) sponsored by Sen. Hanna Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have concluded that most of the increase in fentanyl deaths do not involve prescription fentanyl, but rather are related to illicitly manufactured fentanyl and counterfeit opioid pills that are mixed with highly lethal analogs and then sold intentionally without the user’s knowledge of its lethality.
For more information, contact:
Larry Berman, Communications Director for the Office of the Speaker
State House Room 331A
Providence, RI 02903