Proposed law would increase charges for drug dealing resulting in death

By Quinn Fitzgerald
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS ­– A bill that increases punitive measures for drug dealing that results in death passed a Senate committee Tuesday by a wide margin.

Only Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, voted against House Bill 1359, which was heard by the Corrections and Criminal Law Committee. He voiced concerns that the bill could lead to an increase in the number of murder charges filed, which would eventually lead to higher costs for taxpayers.

The bill would help to accomplish Gov. Eric Holcomb’s goal of attacking the opioid epidemic, said the bill’s author, said Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon.

“The governor understands fully and is extremely supportive in backing this issue of the opioid crisis drug addiction problem we have in the state from the both the supply and demand side,” Steuerwald said.

David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, testified in support of House Bill 1359. The bill proposes to increase the penalty of drug dealers whose products result in deaths. Photo by Quinn Fitzgerald, TheStatehouseFile.com

David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, addressed a concern of law enforcement being able to prove that certain drugs cause the death.

“It’s kind of new ground for us. We’re not really good at investigating overdose deaths,” Powell said. “We’re going to have to get better at that because ultimately, you’re going to have to prove the dealing and then you’re going to have to prove that the drug used, to a medical certainty, resulted in death.”

Powell, who said he supported the bill, added that there’s always a combination of drugs found during autopsies.

Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, disagreed with Powell and said drug-related deaths are not that difficult to prove. He said he opposed the bill.

Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, questioned Powell on the fiscal burden the bill could impose on county jails. Powell said it’s hard to know for sure because of how difficult it can be to track down who dealt the drugs.

“You should not assume that every overdose is going to result in a criminal case,” Powell said. “We have to know who dealt the drugs.

The bill moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee for review.

Quinn Fitzgerald is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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