Senate panel approves drug-death jurisdiction bills

LANSING, Mich. — The Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Dale Zorn to allow a 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 we continue to battle the epidemic of opioid addiction, we need to give prosecutors more tools to punish drug dealers,” said Zorn, R-Ida. “I have worked together with the Monroe County prosecutor’s office and law enforcement across the state for a couple of years on this commonsense legislation to help provide closure for families devastated by drug overdoses.”

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Allison Arnold of the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office testified before the committee in support of Zorn’s bills.

“If a Monroe County resident is killed by illegal drugs bought someplace else, we should still be able to seek justice in Monroe County, and that’s what these reforms will allow,” Arnold said. “I want to thank Sen. Zorn for his commitment and hard work on this issue. This came about due to a real case in our community, and all we’re asking for is to enable our community to take action if one of our own loses their life to drugs.”

Senate Bills 20 and 21 would broaden the potential for prosecution of delivery of a controlled substance causing death to three possible venues: The county where the drugs were delivered, the county where the drugs were consumed, or the county where the victim died from using the drugs.

The bills are the result of a case involving the heroin-overdose death of a man in Monroe County in 2016. The cause of death was toxicity from fentanyl, which is sometimes used by dealers as a cutting agent to make heroin more potent. The dealer was charged in Monroe County with one count of delivery of fentanyl causing death. However, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the Monroe Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction because the delivery of the drug occurred in Wayne County.

The bills now head to the full Senate for consideration.