Governor Cooper signs ‘Death by Distribution’ bill

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A house bill that tackles the opioid epidemic in North Carolina has Governor Roy Cooper’s approval.

The governor signed the Death by Distribution bill into law that’s geared towards drug dealers who sell illegal opioids and cause the death of an individual.

Previously, the law stated distributors who contribute to an overdose death faced second degree murder if a prosecutor could prove malice.

Under the Death by Distribution law, malice or an intent to kill does not have to be proven in court.

In order for someone to be found guilty:
The person must have sold at least one controlled substance,
The ingestion of the substance causes the death of the user,
and the drug sold to the user was the proximate cause of the victim’s death.

Representative Dean Arp for the N.C. House of Representatives and sponsor of the bill says the bill introduces a new charge called Death by Distribution.

Arp added “very similar if you’re driving drunk and you cause the death of someone –you didn’t do it with malice, you still must be held accountable.”

Jacksonville Police Chief Mike Yaniero says this new law is a step forward in fighting the opioid epidemic.

“I mean that gives us another tool in our belt to for enforcement and intervention. The opening of the Dix Crisis Center, the lead, the QRT Program –all those things together hopefully will make us successful in reducing the amount of overdoses and deaths in our community,” said Yaniero.

Chief Yaniero added in the past few years there’s been more deaths in Jacksonville as a result of opioids than homicides and traffic death combined.

However, the N.C. NAACP believes the new law targets people of color.

In a statement State Conference President Rev. T. Anthony Spearman says “Since the relatively cheap drug–crack cocaine–was dumped into Black neighborhoods from questionable sources, racially disparate policing and sentencing have led to massive racial disparities.” 

Spearman continued to state, “The frustrations behind the bill are real and we identify with them; its broad-brush approach demands more attention.” 

Prosecutors and Yaniero are confident this bill will help in future prosecutions.

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

Previous story:

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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