LEGISLATIVE WATCH WYOMING: GOP Proposes Law to Charge Drug Dealers With Murder

Senate File 181 would bring homicide charges against dealers whose clients die

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Feb 02, 2023

By Ellen Fike

Special to the Wyoming Truth


A bill that would mean potential homicide charges for drug dealers whose customers die due to ingesting their products is making its way through the Wyoming Senate.

Senator Cale Case, R-Lander, listens to discussion during the morning session January 13, 2023 in the Senate Chambers. Photo by Michael Smith

Senate File 181, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Wendy Schuler (R-Evanston), Fred Baldwin (R-Kemmerer), Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) and Rep. Ryan Berger (R-Evanston), would create a new drug-related homicide law in Wyoming.

A person would be considered guilty of drug-related homicides if they deliver fentanyl, heroin or methamphetamine to someone who later dies after ingesting any amount of the illegal substance.

The Senate Judiciary Committee met on Wednesday to discuss the intricacies of the bill. Schuler told her fellow legislators that she worked on the bill after the Uinta County Attorney and Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations’ employees asked for help given the fentanyl problem both in the county and state.

“We’re a border town, we have some issues on our side of the state,” Schuler said. “We have various types of drugs coming across our borders. We’re seeing more and more deaths and serious issues, especially with fentanyl.”

Schuler hopes the bill will reduce drug-related deaths and drug trafficking in Uinta County and the state as a whole.

“If you’re going to bring drugs into this state and someone dies from the drugs you brought in, you’re going to have to deal with a homicide [charge],” Schuler said.

The current penalty a person can face for drug-related homicide charges is anywhere from 10 to 30 years in prison. Schuler said it was comparable to a manslaughter charge.

Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) raised questions about the legislation, asking about the intent of dealers and suppliers, as well as  potential third-party interception of the contaminated drugs.

Schuler pointed out that the bill was written as “drug-related homicide,” rather than criminally negligent homicide, in order to strengthen the punishment against those charged with the crime.

“If someone is charged with criminally negligent homicide, they can only be charged with one year in jail and a fine of $2,000,” Schuler said. “The folks on my corner of the state were getting repeat offenders, and this is where some of the deaths and near-deaths were happening. We wanted to bring the hammer down.”

According to the Wyoming Department of Health, the state saw 106 overdose-related deaths in 2021, an increase from 99 in 2020. Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state health officer, said in October 2022 that this increase could be partially attributed to the increase in fentanyl-laced drugs.

Casper resident Sherry Martin testified in support of the bill on Wednesday, telling the lawmakers that as a former employee of the Casper Reentry Center, she saw both the addicts who wanted help and the dealers who continued to push drugs on those who could not say no.

“I feel, in the state, we’ve got to have stronger laws against [drug dealers], because there is a major difference between these addicts and dealers who just want to make money,” Martin said. “From what I have heard and seen, the problem we have in the United States is that these drugs are coming across the Mexican border.”

Ultimately, four senators voted to move the bill forward. Case was the only no vote, telling his colleagues that strong penalties like those in SF 181 are not stopping the nation’s war on drugs, according to the evidence he has seen.

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