The Rhode Island State Senate today passed Kristen's Law, which specifies controlled substance delivery resulting in death, carrying a penalty of up to life in prison. The legislation was filed at the request of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin in honor of Kristen Coutu who was murdered after taking a deadly dose of fentanyl in 2014.
Sponsored by Senator Hanna Gallo (D — District 27, Cranston, West Warwick), the legislation (S2279a) specifies that any person convicted of the unlawful delivery of a controlled substance in an exchange of anything of value which results in the death of a person because of the oral ingestion, injection or inhalation of the controlled substance shall be imprisoned up to life. In addition, any person is guilty of a controlled substance delivery resulting in death when, as a result of an unlawful delivery of a controlled substance to another person who subsequently delivers such controlled substance which results in the death of a person because of the oral ingestion, injection or inhalation of the controlled substance shall be imprisoned up to life.
The legislation was amended after testimony in hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee to clarify that the intent of the legislation was to hold drug traffickers accountable to address concerns that those suffering with substance use disorders would be subject to criminal prosecution.
In addition, the amended legislation made it clear that the individual who, in good faith, without malice and in the absence of evidence of an intent to defraud, seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a controlled substance overdose shall not be charged or prosecuted for violations of the section, if the evidence for the charge was gained as a result of the seeking of medical assistance.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, 20 states have drug-induced homicide statutes in some capacity.
"Passage of Kristen's Law gives law enforcement one more tool to effectively prosecute those who knowingly traffic in these deadly drugs with no regard for those suffering from substance use disorders," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "We understand that this is a complex issue, but we need to send a strong message to drug traffickers – if you knowingly deliver deadly doses of drugs, you will face very serious consequences. Overdose deaths should always be looked at through a law enforcement prism as distributors of these deadly drugs know exactly what they are selling while the person who suffers from a substance use disorder may not be aware of what he or she is taking."
Sen. Hanna M. Gallo said, "Rhode Islanders across all walks of life are feeling the impacts of the opioid crisis. I have personally known too many Rhode Islanders who have been devastated during this crisis, including Kristen, who was a friend of my daughter. We need to send a strong, clear message to drug dealers that people are dying as a result of their actions. They need to know that we will hold them criminally responsible for those deaths."
The Attorney General's Office is working with the House to amend companion legislation (H7715), sponsored by Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D-District 15, Cranston), to mirror the Senate bill.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have concluded that most of the increase in fentanyl deaths do not involve prescription fentanyl, but rather are related to illicitly manufactured fentanyl and counterfeit opioid pills that are mixed with highly lethal analogs and then sold intentionally without the user's knowledge of its lethality.
In April 2017, Aaron Andrade pleaded to one count of second degree murder for selling fentanyl that caused the fatal overdose to 29-year old Kristen Coutu, of Cranston, RI. Under the terms of the plea, Andrade was sentenced to 40 years with 20 years to serve and the remainder suspended with probation.