Latest News, WVPA Sharing

Cabell prosecutor: Drug bills aim to help city


The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Cabell County Prosecutor Sean “Corky” Hammers said the West Virginia House of Delegates’ aim at reducing substance abuse by creating and increasing criminal penalties for drug offense is a step in the right direction toward fighting the area’s raging drug issues.

Bills passed last week aspire to protect minors from parents who are addicted to drugs and establishes an Office of Drug Control Policy at the state level to reduce and provide treatment of substance abuse in the state.

The bills also target drug dealers, a lot who travel from out of state, through addressing an increasing number of overdoses and drug-related deaths, many of which are a direct result of mixing fentanyl into heroin.

Hammers said he was encouraged by the effort.

“This sends a good message out to the public that the legislature is working on the drug problem,” he said.

House Bill 2003

House Bill 2003 creates a new felony offense for administering, dispensing, giving, prescribing, selling or distributing any controlled substance that results in the death of another person.

Hammers’ office has already moved forward in such cases with felony charges of first-degree murder alleging the fault of the administrator or distributor of drugs.

The 2014 overdose death of Racheal Chaney, 28, led to an indictment charging Misty Dawn Chapman of Huntington and Angela Michelle Jarvis of Milton. Both were charged with murder during the commission of a felony, delivery of a controlled substance, and their cases remain pending three years later.

It marked the first overdose death prosecuted as a murder in Cabell County.

Hammers said the implementation of the law would make those cases stronger.

“It makes sense,” he said. “I would rather prosecute someone who commits this under a specific law rather than murder. I would rather go to trial under this statute than felony murder.”

The charge would carry a penalty of 10 to 40 years in prison, which Hammers said is on par with what he believes it should be.

House Bill 2329

On Thursday, the House voted in favor of establishing a felony crime to manufacture, deliver, possess or otherwise bring fentanyl into West Virginia through the Committee Substitute for House Bill 2329.

Anyone convicted of that crime could face between two and 45 years in prison, depending on how many grams of fentanyl are in their possession.

Hammers said the law was a proactive move by the legislature.

“I’ve only seen it in Cabell with people who have overdosed with heroin laced with fentanyl. I haven’t seen, yet, straight fentanyl in Cabell,” he said. “We know it’s coming and, nationwide, it’s a big problem.”

In applauding the move, Hammers did have concerns on how the law would apply when the drug is mixed with heroin.

“If fentanyl is mixed in with heroin, there’s no way to separate it and weigh it. I’m not sure how to wrap my head around the net weight of fentanyl,” he said. “But I’m sure that is a discussion we can have.”

House Bill 2648 and House Bill 2083

House Bill 2648 would increase the minimum sentence for people convicted of drug-related crimes while in the presence of a minor.

The recommended jail time for those convicted is unchanged by the bill, but people sentenced to prison for those crimes would not be eligible for parole until they have served the minimum jail term defined in state law, two or three years, depending on the drug and quantity in a given incident.

If signed into law, House Bill 2083 would increase the penalties for exposing children to methamphetamine manufacturing. A person convicted of manufacturing meth in the presence of a minor faces a sentence of two to 10 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

If a minor suffers a serious bodily injury while meth is being made, the adult convicted in the incident would face between three and 15 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

In a county that has seen a high increase in child neglect cases in the past year, Hammers said it was a good move to help children.

“We are happy. Definitely happy because it increases the penalty when minors are involved,” he said. “Any citizen would want some drug dealers with minors in their custody to get more prison.”

Room for improvement

Hammers still believes there is room for improvement. In West Virginia, most penalties in felony cases are indeterminate, which means there is no definite period of time set during sentencing. The length of imprisonment is based on inmate conduct.

If prosecutors have problems proving a drug was brought in from out of state, a defendant could serve just a year in prison before being released on parole, Hammers said.

“We would like to have those sentences be determinate, so a judge can look at defendants on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “Let the judge sentence those people to 15 years. Don’t give him a standard one to 15 years. Make it a determinate sentence.”

See more from The Herald-Dispatch

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

And get our latest content in your inbox

Invalid email address