RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Republican-led bill that would make way for dealers to be charged with felony homicide if a drug user dies of an overdose didn’t advance out a Virginia Senate committee, despite getting support from a top Democrat.
Under the legislation sponsored by state Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover), drug dealers could face a second-degree murder charge, which carries a sentence of five to 40 years, if a user accidentally overdoses and dies.
Sen. McDougle called the state’s overdose death numbers in the last three years “astronomical” when he presented the bill to the Democratic-controlled Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.
“Last year, there were over 2,600 people that died from drug overdoses, and right now, there’s no way for prosecutors to prosecute those,” McDougle said.
McDougle faced questions about how his proposal would impact Virginia’s “good Samaritan law,” which gives legal protection to those who report overdoses to the authorities to help save the person.
Under current law, McDougle said, a dealer could avoid a felony homicide charge if they distribute the drugs linked to a fatal overdose but are not there at the time. McDougle stressed that his proposal would ensure the dealer would face charges in such a scenario.
Critics who spoke about the measure Monday argued it would put more people struggling with addiction in prison and lead to more deaths, claiming it would discourage people from calling 911 to report overdoses.
McDougle stressed that the “good Samaritan law” shields people against possession charges but not felony homicide if someone overdoses.
“Today, this law doesn’t pass, if you’re using drugs with somebody, and you give it to them, and they die, you’re going to be charged with a felony,” he said. “If you give it today, you’re going to be charged. But the drug dealer, the drug dealer, cannot be charged.”
The Senate committee passed the bill by indefinitely — effectively killing the measure in the chamber — on an 8-7 vote. Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) was the lone Democrat to vote with Republicans.
While McDougle’s bill isn’t moving forward in the state Senate, the effort is not dead. A similar bill filed in the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates by House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore (R-Scott) has advanced to the chamber’s appropriations committee.
But that measure would have to go through the state Senate — and its judiciary committee again — if it advances out the Virginia House, which it is expected to do. If the legislation does make it to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk, the governor has vowed to sign it into law.