Can Dealing Drugs Get You the Death Penalty in Florida?

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Thomas C. Grajek View Profile

Seal of the Supreme Court of Florida

The days of convicted drug dealers and traffickers serving out prolonged sentences in State prison may be coming to an end for those living in Florida.  In October of last year, Florida State Legislators quietly enacted a law that puts the death penalty on the table for convicted drug traffickers.

Gov. Rick Scott supported the harshest possible penalty by signing House Bill 477 into law last year, escalating some drug charges into death penalty cases.

The new law targets adults that have been convicted in cases where a user suffers a fatal overdose, and was crafted to combat the opioid epidemic that continues to plague Florida and the nation. If a person dies as a result of drugs that were illegally purchased, then the person who sold them the drugs can be charged with homicide as well as trafficking.

Death Penalty Gaining Traction

With the president and U.S. attorney general committed to crushing the opioid crisis, the national debate has turned to increased use of the death penalty. The president has engaged a national speaking tour pushing for mandatory minimum sentences and the death penalty.

In many ways, that creates a dual threat for convicted drug traffickers in Florida. Federal authorities appear anxious to set an example that drug dealing won’t be tolerated. Those charged in Florida could become subject to federal charges if they meet certain criteria. The national dialogue will likely cause pressure at the state level to be extraordinarily tough on drug dealers.

Death Penalty On The Table In Florida

Just days after the Florida law took effect, an alleged low-level drug dealer discovered his friend had died from an overdose in Altamonte Springs. Tamas Harris, who had just turned 18 years old, was charged with first-degree murder in the case. The state claims that Harris sold a lethal dose of fentanyl to his friend, Sonny Priest.

What may be most concerning about the Harris case is that the state is not charging a major or high-level drug dealer. The state has only claimed that Harris may have been a local dealer that sold to friends and acquaintances. The broadly applied law may have been intended to curb mass distribution of opioids, but its impact could result in college students, weekend partiers and others facing life in prison or death for what may amount to a recreational drug use tragedy.

Florida’s recently implemented drug trafficking penalties put anyone who comes into contact with drugs and money in jeopardy of losing your life. The national dialogue about the opioid crisis has highlighted that good, everyday people are falling prey to addiction and that means money changes hands at some point. Regardless of whether you are a street dealer or succumbed to addiction, Florida prosecutors are prepared to level murder charges any time someone dies from a drug overdose.

Contact An Experienced Florida Drug Offense Attorney

With new laws in place and political pressure to punish drug dealers harshly, the value of strong legal representation cannot be understated. If you have been charged with a drug-related crime, speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. Your very life could be on the line.

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