NASHVILLE – Drug dealers or others who unlawfully distribute Schedule I or II drugs to minors will be facing more jail time when it results in a death under legislation passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Bill 1875, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), is named Henry’s Law for a Knoxville teenager, Henry Granju, who died due to a lethal opiate overdose.
“This was a tragic case,” said Senator Massey. “Those who pedal drugs to our youth should face greater consequences and this bill ensures that these predators who kill will serve more time behind bars.”
The killing of a minor in Tennessee when the drug is a proximate cause of death is second degree murder, which is a Class A felony. Under the state’s current sentencing guidelines, a standard Range I offender for a Class A felony can receive 15 to 25 years in jail, but the 30 percent requirement places the actual sentence at 4.5 to 7.5 years. The bill proposes to make that same Class A felony a Range II offense, carrying a 25 to 40 years sentence at a 35 percent requirement. This means offenders would serve a minimum of 8.8 to 14 years behind bars.
Schedule I drugs include heroin and other psychedelics, while Schedule II drugs include opiates, cocaine, methadone, methamphetamines and amphetamines.
Henry’s mother, Katie Allison, and his aunt, Betsy Tant, told members of the Judiciary Committee about the importance of this bill to save other families from suffering the same fate as Henry. “Clearly, this opioid epidemic is hitting our kids hard,” said Allison. “And there are adults out there, unfortunately, who would prey on the vulnerability and poor decision-making that many adolescents show. They try to cultivate new customers and, in doing so, kill them instead. The reason we believe it is important for our state criminal code to attach an enhanced sentencing range to second degree homicide is because currently we don’t hold those who prey on our children with these horrible opiate drugs fully accountable for the damage and death they are bringing to this state.”
Approximately 70 to 80 juveniles die each year in the state of Tennessee due to opioid overdose.
“I greatly appreciate Senator Massey’s work on this legislation and the compelling testimony of Katie Allison and Betsy Tant,” said Lt. Governor McNally. “Henry’s death was a true tragedy. Increasing the penalty for these crimes will go a long way towards preventing more Tennessee families from having to go through what Henry’s family has gone through. It is time to institute real justice for victims in these cases.”
Allison and Tant started Henry’s Fund, a non-profit which works to end teen and young adult drug addiction through treatment funding, education, support and advocacy.
The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration.