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Arizona bill that would charge fentanyl distributors with first degree murder also protects "unborn" children

The law also includes penalties for drug distributors whose fentanyl caused the death of an “unborn child,” suggesting that a perpetrator could face double homicide charges for killing a pregnant victim. The legislation excludes mothers who used the drug from first degree liability.

fentanyl | Shutterstock

February 13, 2024 9:17am

Updated: February 13, 2024 9:17am

The Grand Canyon State has declared war on fentanyl drugs, increasing penalties for those convicted in fentanyl-related deaths, and extending protection for “an unborn child in the womb at any stage of its development.”

A new Arizona bill, Senate Bill 1344, introduced by state Sen. Anthony Kern makes certain fentanyl drug deaths classified as first-degree murder.

Death by Distribution

The bill is in relation to a new prosecutorial theory called “death by distribution,” in which drug dealers are being tried with causing the actual murder of someone if they die from a fentanyl product that was dealt to the victim.

In most states, death by distribution has been treated as a charge akin to second degree murder, which means the perpetrator acted knowingly with a conscious awareness of the danger they are causing, or recklessly, which means the perpetrator acted with disregard to the risk they were creating.

If passed, the new Arizona law would charge a distributor of the drug with first degree murder, a charge that alleges the perpetrator acted with the purposeful intent to kill the victim, specifically the intentional killing of another person “with premeditation.”

A person found guilty under such a charge could spend the rest of their life in prison or face the death penalty, under Arizona state law 13-1105.

This means someone could face life behind bars or the death penalty if they are found guilty, according to a state law.

According to a recent report published by The Center Square, “The Arizona Department of Health Services estimated that more than five deaths are caused each day related to opioids, including fentanyl, according to its website. On the national level, 70,601 people died from overdoses involving ‘synthetic opioids’ in 2021, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates.”

Penalties for fentanyl killing an “unborn child”

The law also includes penalties for killing an “unborn child,” suggesting that a drug dealer or perpetrator could face double homicide charges for killing a victim who is pregnant.

The express text of the statute is included in the beginning of the bill, which reads, “Intending or knowing that the person's conduct will cause death, the person causes the death of another person, including an unborn child, with premeditation or, as a result of causing the death of another person with premeditation, causes the death of an unborn child.

To make clear that the unborn child provision is clarified in Section 3(c) of the bill, which says that “An offense under subsection A, paragraph 1 of this section applies to an unborn child in the womb at any stage of its development.”

The bill does make clear however, in 3(c)(3), that a mother who took fentanyl would not be charged with first degree murder if her pregnancy fails as a result, suggesting the bill is aimed at drug dealers, not users.

Fentanyl trafficking from Mexican drug cartels

While the bill does not reference illegal drug trafficking and cartels, ADN America has previously reported that there have been massive amounts of fentanyl coming in from Mexico, a charge which President Andreas Manuel López Obrador denies.

The Mexican president has repeatedly accused China of peddling fentanyl through Latin America and insisted it is not the product of regional drug cartels.

Still, the bill’s author, Sen. Anthony Kern, a Republican from Glendale, said he hopes the U.S. government will finally secure the border to halt the drug crisis in America.

“Too many of our children are dying at the hands of cartels smuggling fentanyl across our border. The issue is continuously getting worse, and we must establish harsher penalties for criminals who bring this dangerous and deadly drug into our communities,” the Arizona state legislator told The Center Square in an emailed statement.

In March 2023, ADN America reported that amid a meeting with then Homeland Security Adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall to discuss fentanyl and arms trafficking, López Obrador went as far as to blame American parents for the fentanyl crisis blossoming across the United States.

“Here, we do not produce fentanyl, and we do not have consumption of fentanyl,” the Mexican president said. “Why don’t they (the United States) take care of their problem of social decay?”

He also added that the U.S. should focus on family values as a tool to combat the opioid epidemic, which is now causing tens of thousands of deaths per year.

Specifically, López Obrador said too many American families were single-parent families, and also said the nation’s values resulted in parents expelling children from homes and placing elderly parents in care facilities.

Despite his insistence Mexico is guilt free of trafficking the deadly drug, the Mexican government has acknowledged that its country has produced fentanyl with chemicals from China and before it is smuggled into the United States. 

“The president is lying,” Mexican security analyst David Saucedo said at that time. “The Mexican cartels, above all the CJNG (Jalisco New Generation Cartel) and the Sinaloa Cartel have learned to manufacture it.”

“They themselves buy the precursor chemicals, set up laboratories to produce fentanyl and distribute it to cities in the United States and sell it,” the analyst explained. “Little by little they have begun to build a monopoly on fentanyl because the Mexican cartels are present along the whole chain of production and sales.”