A woman overdosed and died in jail. As a result, another faces first-degree murder charges.
On Sept. 7, 2018, 24-year- old Jeniffer Patrick was riding in a car with her 49-year-old boyfriend when they were stopped by Marion County sheriff deputies, who found drugs and syringes in the car.
Patrick was arrested and booked into the Marion County Jail in Ocola, Fla., where she was then strip-searched and placed in a holding tank with other women.
This is where she came across 22-year-old Lorraine Gardner who had been in custody since July 2 on a probation violation stemming from three drug charges for MDMA, cocaine and methamphetamine, according to The Appeal, a non-profit criminal justice news outlet.
According to the Marion County sheriff’s department, video shows Patrick handing something to Gardner, who then put it to her face. Soon after, she began to show signs of physical distress.
Later footage shows something falling out of Patrick’s pants: a small baggie containing a tan mixture. The substance was tested and was revealed to be 2.5 grams containing fentanyl.
In November, Patrick was charged with first-degree murder. The murder charges against Patrick are a part of a push to treat fatal overdoses as homicides.
In June 2017, Florida passed a fentanyl trafficking law that increased penalties for dealers, including first-degree murder charges in cases where a homicide results from a drug overdose.
Amy Berndt, the prosecutor in the case, said, “Basically, as long as we can prove that the person delivered the drug that caused the death—fentanyl, it’s first-degree murder.” She remains committed to putting Patrick in prison for the rest of her life, adding that small-time dealers are the problem.
Drug policy experts caution that these new harsher penalties will not save lives—in fact, the threat of more time in prison might increase the likelihood of a fatal overdose if family members, friends or other users hesitate to call authorities, Linsay LaSalle of the Drug Policy Alliance told The Appeal.
Simply, this acts as a deterrent to calling 911. Lawmakers stand firm stating they want to send a clear message to drug dealers in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill and promised it would save lives.
Attorney General Pam Bondi seconded the notion that the law would protect Floridians from dangerous drug traffickers.