Lawmakers propose murder charge for drug-induced homicides

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Lawmakers are proposing new legislation that could lead to life sentences for suspects of drug-induced homicides.

The newly-introduced legislation specifies drug-induced homicide as murder, which carries up to a maximum of life in prison.

Under the current Rhode Island law, any person convicted of the sale, delivery or distribution of a controlled substance to a minor who dies of an overdose will face life in prison. The new legislation would expand to include everyone who is convicted, regardless of age.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, 20 states have drug-induced homicide statutes in some capacity. That statistic is what prompted Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senator Hanna Gallo to take action.

“The punishment should be appropriate, and it should be a life sentence,” Mattiello said. “We have to address it appropriately and sternly, and I think this change in the law will do just that.”

“As the opioid crisis continues, we are seeing increasingly more lethal synthetic drugs hit the streets because they are cheaper and easier to manufacture and distribute. And make no mistake about it, drug traffickers are fully aware they are selling synthetic drugs that are 100 times more powerful than prescription counterparts and can likely lead to death,” Kilmartin said.

If the legislation is enacted, it would be named “Kristen’s Law,” in honor of Kristen Coutu. Coutu’s story is just one example of how the opioid epidemic has impacted many families in Rhode Island.

Back in 2015, Aaron Andrade, 23, was charged with Coutu’s murder after he sold her an illicit product containing pure fentanyl. Coutu, 29, was later found unresponsive in her car and eventually pronounced dead.

“Anyone who is preying on individuals with an addiction, regardless of age, should be held responsible. This is not a crime restricted to the sale of drugs to a minor,” Mattiello said.

Andrade was sentenced last April to 40 years in prison with 20 to serve, with the remainder suspended with probation.

“Rhode Islanders across all walks of life are feeling the impacts of the opioid crisis,” Gallo said. “I have personally known too many Rhode Islanders who have been devastated during this crisis, including Kristen, who was a friend of my daughter. We need to send a strong, clear message to drug dealers that people are dying as a result of their actions. They need to know that we will hold them criminally responsible for those deaths.”