In New Jersey, people can be charged with a crime if they provide drugs to someone who subsequently dies after overdosing on such drugs. This crime is formally called strict liability for drug-induced death and is codified at N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9. The offense is intended to punish drug dealers and manufacturers for overdose deaths caused by the drugs they make or sell.
What Is Strict Liability for Drug Induced Death?
Under the statute, a person can be held strictly liable for the death of a person due to the use of certain controlled dangerous substances. Strict liability means that a person can be convicted even if they had no intent to cause the victim’s death.
The offense is categorized as a first-degree crime, meaning that a conviction carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment, plus a potential fine of up to $200,000. A conviction may also obligate a defendant to pay court costs or other costs of prosecution, and may also result in the suspension of the defendant’s driver’s license.
What Does the State Have to Prove at Trial?
To convict someone for strict liability for drug-induced death, the state must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each of the separate elements of the criminal offense. These elements include:
- The defendant purposefully or knowingly manufactured, distributed, or dispensed any controlled dangerous substance listed in Schedule I or Schedule II of New Jersey’s Controlled Substances Act, or any analog of such substance
- The victim injected, inhaled, or otherwise ingested a controlled dangerous substance manufactured, distributed, and/or dispensed by the defendant.
- The victim died due to injecting, inhaling, or ingesting the controlled dangerous substance. In other words, the victim’s death would not have occurred but for their injecting/inhaling/ingesting the controlled dangerous substance.
Defenses to Drug-Induced Death Charge
Even though strict liability for drug-induced death is intended to impose criminal liability for drug overdose deaths regardless of the intent or knowledge of the individual who manufactured or sold the drugs, there are still factual and legal defenses that may be raised against a charge of strict liability for drug-induced death. These defenses include:
- The defendant did not manufacture or distribute the drugs that caused the victim’s death
- The drugs that caused the victim’s death were not Schedule I or Schedule II controlled dangerous substances
- The victim’s death occurred long after they injected, inhaled, or ingested the drugs – the strict liability for drug-induced death statute is intended to impose criminal liability for drug overdoses, rather than for deaths resulting from medical conditions caused by drug abuse
- The victim’s death was more dependent on the conduct of another person, who was not related to the victim’s use of the drugs. This is to ensure that the defendant’s conduct was the proximate cause of the victim’s death
However, it is not a defense to a charge of strict liability for drug-induced death that the victim contributed in some fashion to their death by intentionally, recklessly, or negligently injecting, inhaling, or ingesting drugs that caused their death, or by consenting to the administration of drugs that caused their death.
Contact an Experienced Audubon Drug Defense Attorney About Your Charges in New Jersey
Have you been charged with a drug-related offense in New Jersey? A drug crime conviction can carry with it heavy fines, jail time, and driver’s license suspension. That is why it is imperative that you speak with a qualified drug defense lawyer about your case. The lawyers at Aydelotte & Scardella Law LLC represent clients charged with use, possession, production, distribution, and related drug offenses in Monroe Township, Washington Township, Mount Laurel, Evesham Township, and throughout New Jersey. Call (856) 452-4820 or fill out our confidential online form to schedule a free consultation about your case. We have an office conveniently located at 109 E. Atlantic Ave., Audubon, NJ 08106, as well as offices located in Hamilton.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.