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JSO announces manslaughter charges in connection to July overdose death, new law could lead to more

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — JSO announced a man has been arrested on at least 17 charges including manslaughter tied to drug dealing, illegal possession of firearms, and assault on Tuesday. That manslaughter charge is tied to an overdose death this summer.

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Forty-four-year-old Robert Graham’s arrest comes as the result of a multi-month undercover operation following an overdose death in July.

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JSO has responded to 400 overdose death investigations this year alone and 470 last year.

Sheriff T.K. Waters said by charging dealers with crimes like manslaughter, JSO and the State Attorney’s Office intend to send a message to those trafficking deadly substances, like fentanyl, that their days of freedom are numbered.

“Those who profit off the pain of those in our community struggling with addiction will be held accountable. One overdose death in our community is one death too many. These deaths are preventable and we will continue to aggressively pursue those who supply these lethal poisons to vulnerable members of our community,” Waters said.

Read: SJSO: 2 men found dead in car after shooting in West Augustine

Assistant State Attorney Joe Licandro handles overdose manslaughter cases for the 4th Judicial Circuit.

According to the State Attorney’s Office, nearly 60 manslaughter charges tied to overdose deaths have been brought in the past four years.

Licandro explained a change in state law passed this year has made it easier for prosecutors to bring charges like manslaughter and even capital murder against drug dealers tied to fatal overdoses.

Read: Arrested dealing methamphetamine from Clay County hotel; Convicted felon heading to federal prison

“Prior to that, you had to prove the drug, in many instances fentanyl, was the but for proximate cause of someone’s death. And when you have a situation where the victim may have multiple substances in their systems, it’s very difficult for a medical professional to identify which drug was caused the actual but for proximate cause of death,” Licandro said.

Now, prosecutors only need to prove the drugs provided by a dealer were a substantial factor causing a victim’s death.

Action News Jax Law and Safety Expert Dale Carson said it’s possible the change will result in prosecutors bringing additional, enhanced charges against drug dealers going forward.

“The change in the law essentially reduces the beyond a reasonable doubt standard to more likely than not,” Carson said.

The change in the law doesn’t only deal with overdoses that result in death.

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Dealers responsible for providing drugs that result in any overdose or serious injury could be charged with a second-degree felony, which carries with it a maximum of 15 years in prison.

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