New Jersey punishes drug crimes harshly, especially when the offense involves more dangerous drugs, like heroin, which is highly addictive and thus, more likely to cause death. Other Schedule I or II drugs, like methamphetamine, lysergic acid diethylamide, phencyclidine, or their analogs, are likewise prone to cause death or permanent damage to users. As such, it stands to reason New Jersey has an interest in deterring the illegal manufacturing, distributing, and dispensing of Schedule I and II drugs by tough sentencing. Those who make and sell dangerous drugs are subject to lengthy prison sentences. To provide some context, the penalties for violating N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5, the statute prohibiting the manufacture and sale of controlled dangerous substances (CDS), range from 18 months in jail to 20 years in prison, with fines ranging from $25,000.00 to $500,000.00.
The New Jersey legislature has a clear interest in protecting the lives of its residents. And according to New Jersey’s Chief State Medical Examiner, 66.31 people die of drug-related deaths daily in the state. Thus, the state separately punishes those who cause another’s death by manufacturing, distributing or dispensing Schedule I or II drugs (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9). The statute aims to lower the drug-related death rate and drug abuse rate by targeting the primary sources: drug distributors, manufacturers, and traffickers.
New Jersey Strict Liability for Drug-Induced Deaths Charges
It is a strict liability crime to cause someone’s drug-induced death, meaning the state may convict an accused of the crime regardless of whether they intended to cause another to die or not. The legislature makes certain crimes strict liability crimes to control high-risk environments and behaviors. Strict liability motivates those who engage in high-risk industries or activities to protect others’ safety or avoid placing others in danger. Thus, those businesses that manufacture fireworks or dynamite are strictly liable for the injuries or deaths caused by conducting the business regardless of fault. Similarly, engaging in the high-risk activity of producing or selling dangerous drugs to people makes those perpetrators strictly liable for anyone who dies due to the drugs made for or sold to them.
Thus, those businesses that manufacture fireworks or dynamite are strictly liable for the injuries or deaths caused by conducting the business regardless of fault. Similarly, engaging in the high-risk activity of producing or selling dangerous drugs to people makes those perpetrators strictly liable for anyone who dies due to the drugs made for or sold to them. Someone causes another’s death under the law when another person dies after injecting, inhaling, or consuming the substance the accused made, sold, or gave to the deceased. The statute clarifies that “but for” the dead person taking the drug, they would not have died. Of course, the law further specifies that the drugs caused the death and no one else intervened and caused the overdose, or the person’s death did not occur too long after taking the drugs.
What the State Must Prove in a Drug Induced Death Case
The statute anticipates that a drug dealer who sells LSD to a user who takes too much of it and dies is liable for the death. However, if the user took too much LSD but survived only to die a month later of an overdose on another drug, the drug dealer may be off the hook. The person who sold the LSD to the deceased is not liable for their death. Therefore, they do not violate the statute. However, even if it appears that the dead overdosed on drugs the accused sold them, the prosecutor still must prove that it was the accused’s drugs and not some other dealer’s. Quite often, drug users buy dangerous substances from multiple sellers. So, it may be more complicated than one might assume to prove the drugs came from a specific dealer. Thus, though strict liability relieves the prosecutor of the burden of proving the accused’s intent, they still must prove the defendant caused the death.
Moreover, the statute eliminates the defense that the deceased’s addiction caused the death. Since it is a strict liability crime, it does not matter that the deceased had a drug problem. So long as the drugs caused the death and the defendant’s illegal activity supplied the drugs, the drug supplier violates the statute.
Degree of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9 Violations and Punishment
The statute makes it a first degree crime for those manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing a Schedule I or II CDS, or their analog, which causes another’s death from injecting, inhaling, or ingesting the dangerous substance. Since causing a drug-induced death is a first degree crime, a conviction means a 10-to-20-year prison sentence, up to $200,000.00 in fines, a $3,000.00 penalty, a $50.00 lab fee, and a six-month to two-year driver’s license suspension. Keep in mind, that is for one charge.
Merger is Prohibited if Drug Distribution Caused Another’s Death in NJ
The crime of causing a drug-induced death is separate from homicide, leading a drug-trafficking operation, maintaining or operating a CDS manufacturing facility, or manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing a CDS. In other words, a defendant may be charged with all related drug charges so that the penalties and fines are cumulative. Thus, the prosecutor can charge a defendant with multiple offenses for the same factual circumstances. Homicide is also a first-degree crime, and leading a drug trafficking operation is also a first-degree crime that carries a possible life sentence. In other words, a conviction for one or all the crimes a prosecutor is likely to charge you with if someone dies means you risk going to prison for the rest of your life. Fortunately, that is not a certainty.
Drug Induced Death Charge? Contact our Cranford Law Office for Help.
The rest of your life is on the line if you have been charged with a strict liability drug induced death crime in New Jersey. However, a criminal defense attorney can defend your rights and interests, advocating for a reduced sentence and finding vulnerabilities in the state’s case that may offer you a way out. They can work with the prosecutor for you to enter a plea bargain. In addition, an advocate experienced in defending those charged with drug crimes can make the prosecutor’s case harder to prove. For instance, a prosecutor who has difficulty proving that your manufacture or sale of drugs led to the victim’s death may not be able to secure a conviction when litigating the case in Superior Court. Knowing their predicament, they may prefer to bargain with your lawyer.
A guilty plea to one of the charges may be better for the state than risking a not guilty verdict on all the charges. County prosecutors understand the risks of their cases and may agree to a reduced sentence or lesser charges to secure a guilty plea and alleviate the necessity of a trial. Moreover, your attorney may be able to enlighten the prosecutor and judge to mitigating circumstances that may lighten your sentence. Judges have the discretion to sentence a defendant along a range of possible penalties. Your attorney can help you argue for the lower end of the sentencing range. That’s after investigating every facet of the case to find a hole that may lead to an outright dismissal.
Seek help from someone with experience defending drug-induced death crimes to defend you. The experienced criminal defense lawyers at our office have been doing this since we started our careers, over 10 years ago. Find help and a dedicated defense professional who stands against prosecutors on a daily basis by contacting our office in Union County today. We serve the entire region of New Jersey, including Elizabeth, Clark, Cranford, Mountainside, New Providence, Summit, Plainfield, Linden, and Union Township. Receive a free consultation by calling (908) 838-0150 or contacting us online 24/7.
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