New Jersey and many other states have experienced an alarming rise in drug overdose deaths. In response, the “Overdose Prevention Act" was signed into law in May 2013. This law affords legal immunity to individuals who seek medical assistance for drug overdose victims in New Jersey.
The purpose of the law, the state’s attorney general explained, is to encourage individuals to call for help during a drug overdose without worrying about being prosecuted for drug possession. It is believed that the legislation could save many lives.
But at the same time lawmakers and police officers are encouraging individuals to call for help during a drug overdose, New Jersey prosecutors are coming down hard on individuals who are accused of supplying drugs such as heroin, cocaine and meth to overdose victims.
Under the state’s "Strict Liability for Drug-Induced Death" law, prosecutors have the ability to charge suspected drug manufacturers and suppliers with homicide after a drug purchaser dies as a direct result of the drug overdose.
Homicide charges in New Jersey can result in up to 20 years in state prison; therefore, should not be taken lightly.
The law has been around for decades, but it wasn’t until recently that prosecutors have begun using it more often. In what appears to be a national trend, prosecutors in other states are beginning to use similar laws more frequently as well.
The laws are rare, a CNN legal analyst explained, because strict liability typically only applies in civil cases, not criminal cases. In criminal cases, strict liability causes criminal intent to be a non-issue, meaning suspects can’t argue that drug users contributed to their own deaths.
New Jersey prosecutors say the law is helping them deal with a drug-overdose epidemic, but it has also been criticized for causing the wrong people to face extremely serious charges.
Check back later this week for more on this important issue.
Source: CNN, “New Jersey prosecutors hit dealers with homicide charges in overdose deaths,” Lorenzo Ferrigno, March 11, 2014