“Beyond disappointed’: Should Vt. dealers with dangerous drugs face stiffer penalties?

Published: Sep. 25, 2023 at 5:36 PM EDT
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NORTH HERO, Vt. (WCAX) - A Vermont prosecutor is blasting a no-jail sentence for a repeat drug offender. It stems from a fentanyl trafficking case out of Grand Isle County, and it’s renewing the debate over the role of law enforcement in the war on drugs.

“Distribution of narcotics including heroin and fentanyl should not be tolerated, and the habitual offender must mean something in this state,” Grand Isle State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito said, arguing in court for a repeat offender to be sent to prison for fentanyl trafficking and other drug charges.

Michael Larrow Sr. pleaded guilty to selling heroin and no contest to the fentanyl charges.

“If you’re going to get a felony, another felony, another felony and it doesn’t stop, at some point somebody needs to say this person needs to be incapacitated to protect the public,” DiSabito said.

On the day of his sentencing, Larrow addressed Vermont Superior Court Judge Samuel Hoar, saying he’s an addict who is working to change.

“Since this has happened I have tried to change my life, like going to the clinic. I’ve learned that I must take responsibility for my actions. The clinic has been a godsend,” Larrow said.

Judge Hoar eventually sentenced Larrow to serve four years of probation, with no time in prison.

That’s a stark difference from the prosecutor’s call for 30 years to life in prison with the habitual offender enhancement.

In his decision, the judge stated Larrow must work to deal with his drug addiction, saying he’s hopeful this sentence helps with that.

“I’m sort of beyond disappointed, to be honest-- seriously. Fentanyl is killing people,” DiSabito said.

Sen. Dick Sears, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says in the next session, Vermont lawmakers will discuss a bill aimed at strengthening penalties for fentanyl trafficking and stricter penalties if there is a known death associated with it.

When asked about this sentence, Sears echoed DiSabito’s concern, saying “Given the number of drug overdoses and deaths resulting from fentanyl abuse, I believe it sends the wrong message.”

While the ACLU would not speak specifically about this case, they have been highly critical of long sentences for drug offenses. The ACLU says the approach should be treatment rather than incarceration.

“By just locking people up, that’s not going to solve the problem, and we’ve seen this year after year from the war on drugs. The way we deal with this is we try and make sure there’s not as much demand. That’s how you deal with the supply problem, you reduce the need for demand on the streets,” said Falko Schilling of the ACLU of Vermont.

If Larrow violates his probation, he may be required to serve anywhere from four to 10 years in prison.

Related Story:

Grand Isle man arrested in drug trafficking investigation