New Fentanyl Laws in Texas

New Fentanyl Laws in Texas

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

The overdose epidemic in the United States is continuing to take its toll on the population. While the numbers have slightly decreased in 2023, they still exceed 100,000 deaths per year. Each state is taking drastic prevention steps, and Texas isn’t an exception. In June 2023, Governor Abbott signed several laws aimed at combating the overdose epidemic, and the fentanyl crisis in particular. These laws were passed during the 88th Regular Legislative Session at the Texas Capitol. The most important one of them involves prosecuting fentanyl deaths as murder. If they charge you with a murder related to a fentanyl overdose, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney. Without comprehensive legal counsel, with the new “fentanyl” law in effect, you could face a lifetime in prison.   

Fentanyl written on a bottle with label.

House Bill 6  

House Bill 6 went into effect on September 1, 2023. It targets the opioid crisis in Texas by imposing stricter penalties on individuals involved in fentanyl-related deaths. Under this legislation, if someone provides a fatal dose of fentanyl, they could face murder charges.

The key elements of this bill are:

  • If a person’s manufacturing or supplying fentanyl to another person results in death, the criminal offense becomes murder.
  • Deaths caused by fentanyl will be classified as “fentanyl toxicity” or “fentanyl poisoning” in the death certificates.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, which is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. It’s classified as a penalty group 1 controlled substance, which is the highest group accompanied by the toughest penalties.

Only 2 mg of fentanyl can be a lethal dose. Sometimes, you can find trace amounts of fentanyl in such drugs as cocaine and heroin. The person distributing these drugs may not even know that they contain fentanyl. However, not knowing about this doesn’t prevent a manufacturer or distributor from facing a murder charge if the recipient overdoses.

Other measures that the government introduced along with House Bill 6 are:

  • House Bill 3144: This bill establishes October as Fentanyl Poisoning Awareness Month to increase awareness about the dangers of fentanyl.
  • House Bill 3908, also known as Tucker’s Law: Mandates that public schools provide research-based instruction on fentanyl abuse prevention and drug poisoning awareness to students in grades 6 through 12 annually. Additionally, it requires the Governor to designate a Fentanyl Poisoning Awareness Week.
  • Senate Bill 867: Permits the distribution of opioid antagonists, including NARCAN, in Texas higher education institutions to prevent opioid poisonings.

While the above bills are mostly about awareness and treatment, House Bill 6 has the highest impact on potential defenders in fentanyl murder cases.  

A simulated vial of fentanyl on a blue table next to a syringe.

Why Is the New “Fentanyl” Law Important?

While House Bill 6 deals with the overwhelming number of overdoses in Texas, it makes the defense in fentanyl-related cases more complicated.

Increased Accountability

The bill stipulates that if a person’s manufacturing or supplying fentanyl results in someone’s death, they can be charged with murder. This significant increase in legal consequences aims to hold those involved in the distribution of fentanyl more accountable.

If the distribution or manufacturing of fentanyl drugs leads to death, they can charge the person with first-degree murder. The penalty for first-degree murder in Texas is between 5 and 99 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

Implications for Distributors

Those who distribute drugs don’t always know what they consist of. However, even if a person distributes fentanyl unknowingly, they can still be charged with murder.

This tough aspect of the new law addresses the reality that distributors may not always be aware of the presence of fentanyl in the drugs they sell, yet they are still held responsible for the resulting deaths.

Lawyer and client negotiation in legal judgement consulting.

Defenses Against the New “Fentanyl” Law in Texas

If you’ve been arrested for distributing fentanyl, which caused another person to die, you could face murder charges. Common defenses in such a case can include:

Insufficient Evidence

An experienced criminal defense attorney can argue that there is insufficient evidence to prove that the fentanyl supplied by the defendant was the direct cause of death.

The attorney can use medical records, toxicology reports, and expert testimony to show other potential causes of death. They can also demonstrate that the amount of fentanyl provided was not sufficient to be lethal on its own.

Lack of Knowledge

In some cases, there may be a possibility to prove that the defendant didn’t know that the substance they sold contained fentanyl. This would require the defense team to demonstrate that the person believed they were selling a different substance and had no knowledge of fentanyl contamination.

Procedural Defense

If during investigation or arrest, a law enforcement officer violated the defendant’s constitutional rights, the attorney can try to dismiss the charges.

Unlawful search and seizure, lack of probable cause, or failure to read Miranda rights could lead to the exclusion of key evidence.

Alternative Suspect

While the prosecution may have evidence that the defendant was distributing drugs, they could have a harder time proving that the drug user overdosed on the exact drug sold by a specific person.

An attorney can find evidence or present testimony suggesting that another individual was responsible for providing the fatal dose of fentanyl.

With the new law turning fentanyl distribution into a murder charge, criminal defense attorneys are working hard to change their approach to defense. The strategy always varies from case to case and contains a combination of complex tactics.

Consult an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If you or your loved one have been arrested for distributing fentanyl, there is a possibility of murder charges. To avoid a wrongful conviction that can affect your entire life, you need to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Kent Starr has handled multiple fentanyl-related cases in Texas. His extensive knowledge of the legal system and the constantly emerging new laws makes Mr. Starr highly qualified to defend people in the toughest situations. 

At Starr Law, our goal is to protect your rights. To schedule a free consultation, call us today.

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