Senate passes Zorn’s drug-death jurisdiction bills

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Senate on Wednesday approved Sen. Dale Zorn’s legislation 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.

“This is about helping local prosecutors seek justice and provide closure for local families dealing with the loss of a loved one to a drug overdose,” said Zorn. R-Ida. “Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan continues to face an epidemic of opioid addiction.

“I have worked together with the Monroe County prosecutor’s office and law enforcement leaders for a couple of years on this commonsense legislation to address our opioid crisis by punishing drug dealers.”

According to the governor’s office, opioid overdoses have killed 8,000 Michigan residents over the last five years, and the crisis has become even more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic with calls to emergency medical services for opioid overdoses 22% higher from April to July 2020 than during the same period in 2019.

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.

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Allison Arnold of the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office said, “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. 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.”

Zorn’s bills are the result of a 2016 case involving the heroin-overdose death of a man in Monroe County. 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 the Monroe Circuit Court lacked jurisdiction because the drugs were obtained in Wayne County.

The bills now head to the House of Representatives for consideration.