The Alexandra Admonishment

The Alexandra Admonishment

It is extremely dangerous to human life to provide, distribute, or furnish drugs in any form, and regardless of whether the drugs are real or counterfeit. Selling, furnishing, or distributing drugs to those who intend to use them has the potential to cause serious bodily harm or death as they are often mixed with deadly substances such as fentanyl or analogs of fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50‐100 times stronger than morphine and can kill human beings even in very small doses.

Therefore, if you sell, furnish, or distribute drugs to someone, and that person dies as a result of using the drugs, you can be charged with murder.

The Fight Against Fentanyl Dealers

In the eyes of the law, fentanyl is not considered a serious “Schedule I” drug, even though two grains can kill in a matter of minutes.

“California’s criminal code treats fentanyl less seriously than heroin and cocaine,” said  Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach. “This just does not make any sense. It has created perverse and deadly incentives, leading to a huge increase in fentanyl coming across our borders.”

Right now, dealers can get extra time and higher fines for peddling heroin and cocaine than they face for peddling fentanyl. Working across the aisle, Petrie-Norris and Sen. Pat Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, have introduced complementary bills that would bump fentanyl up from its spot as a less-threatening Schedule II drug to what they say is its rightful place as a dangerous Schedule I drug.

“Fentanyl is not marijuana, it’s not heroin, it’s not cocaine,” Bates said. “It’s a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and can kill in just 2 minutes after ingestion. The California legislature must act and treat fentanyl as the exceptionally dangerous drug it is.”

Officials have been trying to do this for six years. “Today we need to act once and for all,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said Tuesday.

IMPLIED MALICE

The Alexandra Admonishment is the specific knowledge that prosecutors need to prove implied malice.

Holding drug dealers accountable for fatalities is currently difficult to do because “implied malice” must be proven. In order to charge a drug dealer with murder in California, you must prove that the drug dealer had specific knowledge that they knew what they were doing was harmful to human life.

The Alexandra Admonishment addresses “implied malice” for drug deaths similar to drunk driving deaths from the 1981 People vs. Watson case.

For example, should someone be arrested for selling fentanyl or another lethal substance, they would be given a warning of the danger of their behavior. Should that same individual continue to sell and someone dies as a result, he or she could be charged with murder.

If a drug dealer is arrested for selling or distributing narcotics, the Alexandra Admonishment might be enough to get them to stop selling drugs. And if they continue to sell drugs, they can be prosecuted.

While the Alexandra Admonishment does not solve the entire fentanyl crisis, it is definitely a step forward.

Using the Alexandra Admonishment

The Alexandra Admonishment gives the prosecutor evidence that the individual knows the lethality of fentanyl, which can be used in court for any future fentanyl-related case, especially murder.

Alexandra Admonishments can be given to defendants to be used for evidence in future cases. The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office implemented the Alexandra Admonishment in February 2021.

The Alexandra Admonishment is being read into the court record and/or signed by the defendant at preliminary hearings, plea agreements, and/or at sentencing hearings of all cases involving the use of, distribution, and/or sales of fentanyl. When a defendant enters a guilty plea in court, he/she acknowledges this statement. 

The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office in February became the first in Southern California to file a murder charge against a person suspected of selling or providing fentanyl-laced drugs resulting in someone’s death, Hestrin’s office said. There are at least five current pending murder prosecutions, Hestrin said.

Based on the 1981 California Supreme Court case People v. Watson, if a driver under the influence kills an individual, the driver can be charged with second-degree murder if they have had at least one prior DUI conviction, and they have previously been warned about the dangers of drunk driving. This allows prosecutors to use implied malice, which is “when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart,” according to California Penal Code 188.

The same can be applied to individuals dealing drugs, explained Hestrin.

If prosecutors can prove drug dealers “have the knowledge that what they’re dealing is deadly to human life, disregard the danger to human life and continue to deal, and they kill someone, that’s how we’re charging them with second-degree murder,” he said. 

Hestrin said his office is looking at all fentanyl deaths potentially for such prosecution.

Penal Code 188

PENAL CODE – PEN

PART 1. OF CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS [25 – 680.4] ( Part 1 enacted 1872. )

TITLE 8. OF CRIMES AGAINST THE PERSON [187 – 248] ( Title 8 enacted 1872. )

CHAPTER 1. Homicide [187 – 199] ( Chapter 1 enacted 1872. )

188.  

(a) For purposes of Section 187, malice may be express or implied.

(1) Malice is express when there is manifested a deliberate intention to unlawfully take away the life of a fellow creature.

(2) Malice is implied when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.

(3) Except as stated in subdivision (e) of Section 189, in order to be convicted of murder, a principal in a crime shall act with malice aforethought. Malice shall not be imputed to a person based solely on his or her participation in a crime.

(b) If it is shown that the killing resulted from an intentional act with express or implied malice, as defined in subdivision (a), no other mental state need be shown to establish the mental state of malice aforethought. Neither an awareness of the obligation to act within the general body of laws regulating society nor acting despite that awareness is included within the definition of malice.

(Amended by Stats. 2018, Ch. 1015, Sec. 2. (SB 1437) Effective January 1, 2019.)

SB 350 Alexandra’s Law will be brought back for reconsideration per California Senator M. Melendez.