Jacksonville officials weigh in on H.B. 474

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A house bill is targeting the opioid epidemic and helping law enforcement crack down on illegal drug distribution.

House Bill 474 passed the house June 28 with a 82-29 vote. The bill is geared towards drug dealers who sell illegal opioid and cause the death of an individual.

The legislation presents a new charge called death by distribution.

Under the bill, malice or an intent to kill does not have to be proven in court.

Current law however states distributors who contribute to an overdose death can face second degree murder. Prosecutors must prove malice.

If drug distributors are found guilty under this new bill, they can face between 44 months to 182 months in prison.

“It depends upon their history and their prior offenses and that’s why under current law with involuntary manslaughter you have a clean record you might not do any time,” said Dean Arp, representative for the N.C. House of Representatives and sponsor of the bill.

Jacksonville Police Chief Mike Yaniero says 80 overdoses have happened between January and April. There were 4 deaths.

“In the last 3-4 years we’ve had more deaths from opioid overdoses than we’ve had from homicides, and traffic deaths combined,” said Yaniero.

Onslow County District Attorney Ernie Lee said the bill will allow clarification for jurors.

“Right now when people hear murder, they think of one thing. They don’t think about someone distributing drugs to someone else causing their death,” said Lee.

Lee has dealt with opioid-related cases in court. He is in favor of the bill and says those selling opioid should be held accountable.

“If you’re out there selling these drugs, for profit, which these people are, and they’re causing the deaths of others, we have to make sure that there’s a level of punishment that would deter others from doing the same thing,” said Lee.

Governor Cooper has to sign the legislation in order for the bill to come in to effect.

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