In July 2018, Rhode Island lawmakers passed “Kristen’s Law.”  This law, created by 2018-H 7715Aaa and 2018-S 2279B, is aptly named for Kristen Coutu, a twenty-nine-year-old Cranston woman who passed away in 2014 after taking a fatal dose of fentanyl, that she thought was heroin.

What is Kristen’s Law?

Rhode Island criminal defense lawyerKristen’s Law is codified in Rhode Island General Law §11-23-7 and punishes drug dealers for deliveries of controlled substances that when ingested result in death.

What is the Penalty for a Controlled Substance Delivery Resulting in Death?

Anyone found guilty of violating “Kristen’s Law” may face up to life in prison.

Exception for those sharing drugs

Kristen’s law does not prosecute those who share drugs with another, even when those drugs cause their death.  This law requires the actual sale of drugs.

Good Samaritan Exception

Many lawmakers worried that this law would have a chilling effect on people, causing them to now flee the scene of an overdose to avoid prosecution, rather than seeking help and potentially saving a life.  However, Rhode Island currently has a “Good Samaritan” Law, which exempts individuals from prosecution when they seek emergency medical help. Kristen’s Law specifically states that “any person who, in good faith, without malice and in the absence of evidence of an intent to defraud, seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a controlled substance overdose shall not be charged or prosecuted for a violation of this section, if the evidence for the charge was gained as a result of the seeking of medical assistance.”

Support for Kristen’s Law

Supporters of the law and the Office of the Attorney General insist that this law’s goal is to go after the drug dealers and traffickers who are knowingly providing deadly doses of drugs, like fentanyl, to Rhode Islanders.

Criticism of Kristen’s Law

Members of medical and recovery communities, fought hard against this law.  They argued that the law attempts to punish people, rather than help addicts who need treatment rather than prison time. This was evidenced in the fact that Rhode Island lawmakers declined to pass two amendments: one that would exempt drug addicts from prosecution under the bill and another that would require “intent to harm” from the drug dealer in order to be charged with the new crime.

Kristen’s Law in action

To date, only one person has been charged under Kristen’s law. In November 2018, a Massachusetts man was charged with death by overdose after he delivered fentanyl to another individual who later died as a result.  This case is still pending and therefore, no one has actually been convicted of an overdose death under Kristen’s Law.

Prosecution of Drug Crimes in Rhode Island

Those charged under Kristen’s Law may also face additional drug charges such as possession of a substance with intent to deliver and conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance.

What if I am Currently Facing a Drug-Related Charge in Rhode Island? What Now?

If you or a loved one is facing a drug charge in Rhode Island, contact the skilled Rhode Island criminal defense attorneys at Abilheira Law today. Call us now (401) 245-5100, or fill out our online form!