Pending TN Legislation Could Invoke Death Penalty For Fentanyl Homicide

Image Credit: Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D. / Public Domain

By Sam Stockard [Tennessee Lookout -CC BY-NC-ND 4.0] –

Tennessee State Rep. Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna-District 49) is preparing to sponsor legislation that could make fentanyl a “weapon of mass destruction” and lead to the death penalty for dealers who cause someone’s death.

“What I really want to do is get people to engage and think about how serious this is,” Sparks says. 

During a town hall three years ago, Sparks met a young woman who held up a picture of her son who died from ingesting a substance laced with fentanyl. The state lawmaker was struck by the encounter and has been thinking about taking up the fight against fentanyl since then.

“It’s not only a threat now, it’s going to be a huge threat in the years to come,” he says, noting he believes it is a “weapon of mass destruction.”

About 200,000 people have died from fentanyl overdoses, he contends. Sparks believes more young people will continue to succumb to the drug, a synthetic opioid designed for treating severe pain such as that resulting from cancer.

It’s 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and even though prescription rates have dropped, overdoses have gone up dramatically, according to information Sparks is handing out. The drug is often mixed with heroin or cocaine without the user’s knowledge.

Under the bill he plans to introduce, conviction for possession of fentanyl would mirror the standards for Class A and Class B felonies, 15 to 60 years and a $50,000 fine for the former and eight to 30 years and a $25,000 fine for the latter. 

But as an “act of terrorism” resulting in the loss of life, a fentanyl dealer could be charged with first-degree murder and subject to the death penalty, life in prison without the possibility of parole or life with parole.

The pending legislation also would kick in civil actions in which victims of fentanyl could file suit against the person responsible for any injury caused by the illegal drug.

Gov. Bill Lee put executions on hold last May after finding out the Department of Correction violated guidelines for lethal injections. A third-party investigation recently found a litany of problems within the department’s handling of the drugs.

The governor has no intention of stopping executions but recently predicted the Tennessee Supreme Court wouldn’t sign any death row warrants until the state updates its rules for lethal injections to make sure they’re handled properly. 

***Note from The Tennessee Conservative: Per The Tennessee Lookout’s republishing guidelines, this article has been edited for writing style and length.***

About the Author: Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state’s best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association. Follow Stockard on Twitter @StockardSam

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