Important sideboards are missing from a bill that would add mandatory minimum sentences for fentanyl trafficking.

Every parent raises a child knowing they will make mistakes. We hope our kids learn and do better. But imagine your teenager or a young adult at a party and sharing illegal drugs. It might be one of the worst mistakes of their short life, but the mistake is compounded when someone at the party dies. Now, your child faces up to a life sentence in prison. That’s a provision in Idaho’s House Bill 406, called Drug Induced Homicide, or DIH, prosecuting drug-related deaths as criminal killings.

As “the last safe space for the American dream,” Idaho is where out-of-state folks are moving because we uphold traditional values, and we have laws that put violent and career criminals behind bars. I’m a lifetime Idahoan who spent more than 30 years as an Ada County deputy prosecutor, and I know a thing or two about taking real criminals off our streets.

Prosecutors and law enforcement depend on well-written laws to keep Idahoans safe, but someone dropped the ball when they wrote the DIH provision in House Bill 406. It’s an emotional, knee-jerk reaction to a problem killing tens of thousands of Americans every year: synthetic opioid drugs like fentanyl are the deadliest drugs our state or nation has ever seen.

Idaho Lt. Gov Scott Bedke recently wrote that fentanyl is a highly effective, addictive, narcotic painkiller. He wrote “The drug traffickers know this, which is why they mix small amounts into other drugs which are often made to look like regular medications.” Bedke adds that “small amounts” can be deadly and “an unsuspecting person” may unknowingly ingest a lethal dose.

That’s a deadly game of roulette for Idahoans who are recreational drug users and addicts, and it’s every parent’s worst nightmare – both for the loved one who unknowingly passes off the drug to a friend and to the friend who consumes the drug and dies. The tragedy is compounded when a one-time mistake that carried no intent to kill could carry a mandatory lifetime punishment.

Predictably, one of the first bills out of the gate of Idaho’s 67th legislative session was House Bill 406 — a bill that adds fentanyl to the list of other proscribed illegal drugs requiring a mandatory minimum sentence. Introduced back in the 1980s, Idaho’s mandatory minimum laws reflect the notion that the threat of stiff prison sentences deters traffickers, manufacturers and cartels from bringing drugs into Idaho.

Idaho’s law goes a step further. In Idaho, one must only possess a certain weight or amount of drug. If that weight is over the proscribed amount, that person is a per se trafficker, regardless if that person never intended to sell the drug to anyone.

Idaho’s Death Induced Homicide offers no waiver provisions for juveniles, provides no Good Samaritan incentive for anyone to render aid and presents a lack of causation that makes it nearly impossible to prove. Imagine a family member of the deceased demanding justice and the prosecutor relays that he/she cannot charge because causation can’t be proved — a fact that all prosecutors knew when the law was drafted.

There are 25 states with DIH laws with variations of juvenile waivers, Good Samaritan incentives and requirements that the person who “delivered” or shared the drug must have knowledge of its lethal contents. Seems like common sense, but none of those sideboards are written for House Bill 406.

While optics and politics will send House Bill 406 to the governor’s desk, it’s up to all Idahoans to keep a vigilant eye on the implications of the DIH provision. Will it ensnare countless juveniles and young adults? Will it make Good Samaritans think twice before trying to save a life? Is poorly written legislation worth a short-term political win?

Time will tell.