A Central Florida woman has been charged with first-degree murder in the fentanyl-related overdose death of a friend simply for helping the friend connect with a drug dealer.
Florida's drug war is particularly vicious. Prosecutors there can charge people who provide drugs with murder if their customers die from drug overdoses. Earlier this year, the state added fentanyl and other opioids to the list of drugs that can trigger murder charges (and some new mandatory minimum sentences as well).
But Jamie Nelson, 34, was not the dealer who provided the fentanyl and heroin that killed Tracy Skornika in June. According to police, Skornika gave Nelson $50 to help her to find a heroin connection. Nelson took her to a dealer she apparently knew. Skornika overdosed and was found on her bathroom floor. She was pronounced dead three hours later at a hospital.
There's nothing is this story that even suggests that Nelson wanted her friend dead. The Orlando Sentinel report on the case notes that Nelson cried when she found out Skornika had died.
It's an absurd upending of justice to think someone should be indicted for first-degree murder without intending to kill anybody. But Florida's drug war is so focused on punishment that prosecutors and lawmakers don't even care about intent. Nelson could face the death penalty if she's convicted.
This story needs attention, because these laws are sold as mechanisms to punish sinister drug dealers. But that's obviously not what's happening here, and this isn't an anomaly. A Reason investigation by C.J. Ciaramella and Lauren Krisai showed that Florida's prisons are full of people like Nelson: fellow addicts, not high-level drug dealers. Read what their data show here.
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.