HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – A proposed bill could lead to drug dealers being charged with involuntary manslaughter if the person they distribute drugs to overdoses and dies.
"Where this bill is currently at, there’s no intent needed for manslaughter. So, I think that is so critical to this bill, to make sure that it’s preserved as much as it can be. Any bill always runs the risk of changing, but my attitude to this is let’s send a clear message in South Carolina that we are not going to tolerate this kind of criminal behavior within our state,” said Rep. Russell Fry, one of the bill’s sponsors.
The bill would also increase the maximum sentence of involuntary manslaughter to 15 years in prison.
“I think we’re taking a very comprehensive approach to this entire issue,” said Fry, “There is no silver bullet that is going to solve this issue. It’s going to take a lot of different approaches and things that have been shown to work on a federal level and (in) other states so we can address this within our own borders.”
Local leaders said a law similar to this on a federal level is already in place. Fry said partnerships between local, state and federal leaders is so important, which makes it all the more reason important to have a law like this on a state level.
“Because they have this law on the books, we also need to have it because it is a tool that prosecutors can use on the federal level or at a state level and so we just need to have those tools available for our local law enforcement and solicitors here as well,” said Fry.
Fifteenth Circuit Judicial Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said when it comes to prosecuting these types of cases, finding out who distributed the drugs to the person who overdoses is part of it.
“You couldn’t use this on every overdose case, but it turns into an investigation because now you’ve got somebody dead. How did they die? You may go through their phone, you may go through other witnesses that were around,” he said.
Richardson said it’s not easy and it could be particularly hard for bills coming through that could expand the good Samaritan law. This could be a helpful tool, though.
“We could use this tool and we could use it for good in this opioid battle,” said Richardson, “There will never be a silver bullet on the criminal justice side of opioids. You can’t lock your way up out of it.”
He said they’ve tried to focus on traffickers and distributors of heroin. Richardson added a strict liability law could help if it were added to the legislation.
"A strict liability sort of law says that it doesn’t matter what you knew. All that matters is you had in your possession an amount of drugs which you passed to someone else and that person died as a result of taking them. It doesn't matter what you knew, what you thought or anything else. You would need something like this in that bill,” said Richardson.
The bill was introduced in the house on Jan 23. It was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and has had 10 more sponsors added to it.