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Orange County Drug Dealers May Now Face Murder Charges for Overdoses

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Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer announced his initiative to charge convicted drug dealers with murder if their manuafacturing and/or distribution of illegal substances kills an individual on Nov. 9. Present at the announcement were neighboring county representatives, fellow law enforcement and families affected by fentanyl poisoning. 

The decision stems from the increase in fentanyl-caused deaths prevalent across California. Orange County alone has experienced a 1000% increase in fentanyl based drugs, and  fentanyl-caused deaths statewide have increased by 1513%. The opiate is 100 times more potent than its comparative drug, morphine, with two milligrams alone warranting an overdose.

The OC District Attorney’s Office stated intent to educate those previously convicted for the distribution of potentially deadly drugs on the dangers of fentanyl and its sister substances. 

According to Spitzer’s official press release, this group includes “[d]efendants convicted of a variety of drug-related charges, including possession for sale of cocaine, heroin and opiates which most commonly contain Fentanyl, loitering to commit a controlled substance offense and transportation of a controlled substance for sale.” 

The policy states that defendants can be charged with murder if they commit another drug-related crime ands someone dies as a result. 

The policy has been compared to the Watson Advisement which was adopted by California after the results of the 1981 California Supreme Court decision in People v. Watson. The Watson Advisement is a legal acknowledgment that driving under the influence poses a threat to surrounding parties, not just the individual. Under this acknowledgment, those who kill victims while driving under the influence can be charged with murder of the second degree.  

Officials like Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes have been in favor of a Watson-like law for years now. “I have sponsored legislation to address disparities in the law by increasing the penalty for those trafficking this deadly substance.” Barnes said in a press release. “Unfortunately, the majority of our legislators have not been willing to enact this commonsense proposal.” 


Erin Boshers is a City News Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at eboshers@uci.edu.