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September 29, 2016

New HELP Act seemingly proposes death — and mandates LWOP — for spiked heroin dealing in every case in which "death or serious bodily injury results"

In this post yesterday I noted that Representative Tom Reed, who represents the 29th Congressional District of New York, last week introduced a bill (with four co-sponsors) that would respond to the current heroin epidemic by expanding the federal death penalty.  In that post, you can find Rep Reed's press release, headlined "Reed Stands with Victims: Offers Death Penalty Proposal for Heroin Dealers," explaining the background and reasons for his proposal.

This morning, I found that this page at Congress.gov providing more information about the Help Ensure Lives are Protected (HELP) Act now has this link to the (quite short) text of Rep Reed's bill.  Somewhat disconcertingly, but not really all that surprisingly, the bill is written in a way that seems to mandate federal life without parole (and permits the death penalty) in any and every case in which any user of spiked heroin suffers even serious bodily injury and even if the person distributing the heroin does not know or even have any reason to know the heroin is spiked or that it could seriously injure a user.  

In other words, as I read the key text of the proposed HELP Act, this bill calls for holding any and all heroin distributors strictly and severely criminally liable for any and all serious injuries or deaths that result from a user ingesting spiked heroin.  This is because the HELP Act simply amends the "Penalties" provision of the Controlled Substances Act by adding "if the mixture or substance [of more than 100 grams] containing a detectable amount of heroin also contains a detectable amount of [spiked substance like fentanyl], and if death or serious bodily injury results from the use of such substance, such person shall be sentenced to life imprisonment or death."

Of course, the Supreme Court long ago concluded that the Eighth Amendment precludes even felony murderers from be subject to the death penalty unless and until it can be shown they were at least extremely reckless in the causing of a death.  Thus, because of constitutional limits, there is little chance this bill if enacted would end up sending lots of drug dealers to federal death row.  But, the Eighth Amendment was interpretted in 1991 to permit Michigan to mandatorily impose LWOP on adults for just the possession of a significant quantity of drugs.  Thus, if the HELP Act were to become law, there is a real reason to expect that a huge numbers of persons involved in heroin distribution throughout the US could soon be facing mandatory life sentences if anyone who gets a spiked drug gets seriously injured.

Prior related posts:

September 29, 2016 at 10:11 AM | Permalink


On general principles I oppose any act of which the sponsor makes the name of the act such that it collapses into an acronym that is a viable English word. I've long wanted to join Congress just so I can sponsor the Interstate American and Mexican Indigenous Driving Interval and Operational Transport Act better known as the as IAMIDIOT act.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 29, 2016 11:45:44 AM

Any bill filed this late in the session is unlikely to go anywhere (unless it gets added to some other must pass bill). The big issue is whether this bill gets re-filed in 2017.

The main sponsor of the bill is apparently (at least according to some of the sites that attempt to forecast House races) in a tough re-election race. Given the nature of the district (a mostly rural area with some college vote around Ithaca), this seems like a bill designed to appeal to his voters. If this bill is just an election ploy, it may not get re-filed in 2017 -- especially if the incumbent loses.

Posted by: tmm | Sep 29, 2016 11:49:13 AM

A lot of PERMANENT damage is done by legislative idiots who try to make a name for themselves by some stupid legislation. Look at IML by that idiot Smith out of New Jersey. Outright lies and misrepresentation are now SOPs for these crass, unprosecuted criminals.

If he were in my district, this type of legislation would make me spend my own money to make sure voters never elect the guy again by demonstrating his fear, desperation and ignorance to them.

Posted by: albeed | Sep 29, 2016 12:27:40 PM

Here we go again, a wannaBee electoriat.

We are just beginning to swim towards the shore since the 1980's guideline fiasco.

Death sentences almost never happen, without lenghty appeals and x amt of $$

Life, maybe.

If this guy really wants to do so ething, look into who and what products make fentanyl and where the stuff comes from.. Seek measures to upend it.

Meth isnt so tough. Ephedrine comes from abroad, Psuedo, not sure. Just dont allow it in the country and payoff or buy the country that has it. Be much cheaper than what the feds are doing now. Cocaine, any ideas there? Kill it at the source.

Thats what wannabee politicians need to be resolving, not beating their chest like they are tough on crime. This guy us a whimp.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Sep 29, 2016 9:39:34 PM

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