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Bill would create drug trafficking homicide offense

Anyone who sells or shares drugs connected to overdose deaths could serve up to 25 years imprisonment under a bill introduced in the Arizona legislature.  Drug charges could be elevated to murder if the proposed House Bill 2779 becomes law.

House Bill 2779

The bill is intended to prosecute dangerous drug traffickers who knowingly taint or misrepresent their products. It establishes more severe minimum sentences for individuals who sold or possessed even small amounts of heroin, fentanyl, or fentanyl-type drugs. Offenders would be ineligible for incentives such as probation or early release.

The mandatory possession penalties would govern every offense regardless of the amount of the drug sold or possessed by the offender. Mandatory drug induced homicide charges would apply regardless of whether the offender intended to sell or share drugs containing fentanyl.


This mandatory sentencing eliminates judicial discretion and treats all offenses the same regardless of the substance or amounts involved. Under the bill, a person who sells a substance that contains 99 percent heroin and one percent heroin would be treated the same as someone who sold pure fentanyl, according to a sentence reform and treatment advocate.

Justice reform advocates also argue that the measure punishes low level dealers who sold drugs to support their addictions. This could add to Arizona’s overburdened prison system instead of improving public safety.

Mandatory minimum sentences usually do not deter crimes because users are suffering from addiction and not acting rationally. Moreover, according to critics, most addicts do not possess the skill and resources to create better lives. The state’s correctional system also lacks comprehensive treatment and training programs.

National trend

Other states began treated overdose deaths as homicides in recent years because of the growing opioid crisis. The number of laws in this country reclassifying overdoses as murder or manslaughter almost doubled from 2009 to 2019, according to the Northeastern University School of Law.

Opioids were involved in approximately 47,000 overdose deaths in 2018. Fentanyl and fentanyl-like drugs caused almost half of those fatalities.

According to Northeastern’s analysis, however, these laws did not focus on major drug traffickers. Prosecutors brought most of the cases against friends, relatives or people who used drugs with the person who overdosed. Researchers did not find substantive evidence that these laws reduced illegal drug sales and there was evidence that prosecutions discouraged overdose witnesses from calling first responders.

Drug prosecutions can have serious life-altering consequences. An attorney can help protect your rights in these cases.