Senate panel approves bipartisan bills to expand jurisdiction for drug cases causing death

Sen. Dale Zorn

Sen. Dale Zorn

LANSING, Mich. — The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Dale Zorn and Sen. Vincent Gregory, D-Lathrup Village, to allow a county prosecutor to bring charges in the drug-overdose death of a resident in the county, even if the illegal drugs were purchased in another county.

“As Michigan and the entire nation continues to battle the growing epidemic of opioid addiction, this commonsense legislation would give prosecutors more tools to punish drug dealers,” said Zorn, R-Ida. “We have worked with the Monroe County prosecutor’s office and with law enforcement officials from across the state to craft this reform and give county prosecutors the ability to seek justice on behalf of their residents.”

Assistant Attorney General Bill Rollstin, who leads Attorney General Bill Schuette’s Opioid Trafficking and Interdiction Unit, testified in favor of the legislation. Rollstin has an extensive background in prosecuting drug-related crimes, and as of August 2018, the unit has investigated and prosecuted cases from 24 Michigan counties.

In a recent case titled People v. McBurrows the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that charges of delivery of a controlled substance causing death can only be prosecuted in the county where the drugs were delivered.

The case arose from a heroin-overdose death of a man in Monroe County in 2016. An autopsy determined the cause of death was fentanyl toxicity. Fentanyl is sometimes used by heroin dealers as a cutting agent to make the heroin more potent.

The dealer was charged in Monroe County with one count of delivery of fentanyl causing death. However, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the Monroe Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction because the delivery of the drug occurred in Wayne County.

“We had a case dismissed because of this exact issue; drugs sold in Ingham County were consumed in Jackson County and caused a death,” said Jackson County Prosecutor Jerry Jarzynka, who also testified during the committee hearing. “So, had this been the law, venue would not have been an issue in prosecuting this drug dealer.”

Senate Bills 951 and 952 would expand the law to broaden the potential for prosecution of delivery of a controlled substance causing death to three possible venues: The county where the drugs are delivered, the county where the drugs are consumed by the victim, or the county where the victim died from using the drugs.