California Attorney’s Fentanyl Warnings Not About Overdose Prevention


Ddespite the pretensions to be a “reformer,” Jeff Reisig, a Yolo County District Attorney in California since 2003, is jumping on the drug-induced homicide train. In a summer press release, DA Reisig announced that defendants accused of selling drugs will now receive a warning that the substances “may very well contain deadly fentanyl.”

As an explanation, he noted that “when people get a DUI, we give a warning that DUIs can cause death, which becomes evidence if they later kill someone in a DUI. “

Reisig just said the quiet part out loud. The operational function of these warnings is not to deter, but to strengthen potential criminal prosecutions against people in the future.

Drug-related homicide prosecutions are generally a bad idea for prosecutors who care about their conviction rates because most do, including Reisig himself. They are difficult to prove, both in terms of causation and the intention of the defendant, and therefore difficult to win. At least in the federal context, even the Supreme Court has green light making these convictions more difficult to obtain.

Reisig’s presentation of proof that the defendant received one of his notes could make the deal a slam dunk.

But by giving a person the warning, Reisig can now use the fact that they have been warned to “prove” that they had the necessary intent to commit drug-induced homicide, if a buyer overdosed by. the following.

Where there are no specific drug-induced homicide laws, such as in California, prosecutors may choose to use pre-existing murder or manslaughter laws in these cases. It is almost unheard of for prosecutors to use first degree murder laws, as fatal overdoses are hardly ever the result of a “willful and premeditated” plot to kill someone. They therefore use charges of second degree murder and manslaughter, for which a person’s recklessness or negligence is sufficient evidence.

If one of these laws were used, Reisig’s presentation of proof that the defendant received one of his notes could making the deal a slam dunk, since the defendant would be presumed on notice of the risk of death of a potential buyer.

Although Reisig would Hoping As this initiative will help end the overdose crisis, he seems oblivious to the harm reduction claim: “Every overdose death is a political failure. “

A recent training slide show by the Yolo County Health and Human Services Agency and DA Reisig’s office shows the names and photos of 16 local fatal overdose victims, then ominously states, “There will be more”– as if it were a fate over which these departments have no control. The experiences from Portugal, for example, show that if Reisig refused to prosecute for drug possession and Yolo County bolstered its public health response with harm reduction resources, deaths could be significantly reduced.

We don’t know what the residents of Yolo County collectively think about the drug-related homicide lawsuits, but Reisig is unlikely to care. one way or another. According to California ACLU information, he was not in solidarity with his electors. all of the state’s major criminal justice reform voting initiatives in the 2010s.

While residents approved measures to reform the state’s draconian “three-stroke” law, reduce some misdemeanors, legalize cannabis and increase access to parole for some prisoners, Reisig n ‘supported none of these measures and actively opposed the last three.

More recently, he called the state moratorium on the death penalty “Mercy for mass murderers”, despite a majority of its voters supporting its abolition.

Reisig’s drug-induced homicide policy is just one of the many times he is very bad.

In addition, in 2005, DA Reisig was the first prosecutor in Northern California to get a “gang injunction” – a type of civil lawsuit that de facto prohibits loitering in certain areas and fraternizing with certain people because of their alleged gang membership. Not only were these injunctions generally condemned as racist in recent years, but Reisig has also failed to notify people they could be placed on this list. In doing so, he violated the constitutional rights of people, leading to the annulment of the injunction in court.

Surprisingly, none of this has stopped local power actors from falling into the trap of Reisig’s rhetoric that he is some sort of reasonable moderate. In 2018, when Deputy Public Defender Dean Johansson challenged Reisig as part of the progressive prosecutors movement, the Sacramento BeeThe editorial board supported Reisig.

The post specifically cited Reisig’s pledges to “double the size of the mental health court and add more beds to the county drug intervention court.” But as many advocates have pointed out, these “reforms” hurt as much as they help, often leading to imprisoning people in the name of supposedly “saving” them.

The Bee also favorably Mark Reisig is backing “a push on the state capitol to demand the California attorney general’s office to investigate all shootings involving officers,” and is forcing his deputies to undergo implicit bias training. But both reforms do more to shield the DA from political criticism than to reduce incarceration rates or police impunity. If the state GA is the one who decides not to indict a killer cop, it will be the GA office the angry protesters go to, not Reisig’s.

National criminal justice reform organizations are also flocking to Reisig to engage in partnerships. Earlier this year, Measures for justice, a leading non-profit organization dedicated to collecting local criminal justice data nationwide, spear a unique criminal justice data portal called Communal room, with the Yolo DA County office. According to On Reisig’s campaign website, the collaboration means that “all data on the office’s criminal cases is validated and published by a neutral third party and available for public inspection, media review and research.” Currently, Commons helps Reisig to be accountable to his stated objective increase the office diversion rate to 10% by September 2022.

The fact that Reisig notes his collaboration with Measures for Justice not only on a government page, but on his own campaign website, shows that he youn understands the political capital that the link will earn him among his liberal constituency in the university town. (Yolo County is home to the immense UC-Davis Campus.)

This raises the question of whether Measures for Justice was aware of Reisig’s record when he began this collaboration, and whether the organization considered how a conservative “tough on crime” could use it as a campaign tool. Many will give Measures for Justice the benefit of the doubt: the project perhaps shows that just about any prosecutor can make incremental reforms if he is praised enough for doing so.

Yet a broken clock is right twice a day alone. DA Reisig’s policy on drug-induced homicides is just one of the many times he is very bad.

Photograph of DA Reisig via Yolo County Prosecutor’s Office

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