Welcome back. In our last post we began discussing how New Jersey enacted the “Overdose Prevention Act" last May, which provides legal immunity to people who report drug overdoses.
But we explained that at the same time, prosecutors are coming down hard on suspected drug dealers and manufacturers by charging them with homicide after drug overdoses take place.
Prosecutors in Passaic and Bergen counties have used the law to charge suspected drug suppliers with homicide in several drug overdose cases already this year.
A prosecutor in Ocean County, where fatal drug overdoses have doubled in the past year, said New Jersey’s strict liability law "is one of the tools in [his] tool chest to attack this problem."
He added that the threat of serious charges also helps to arrest suspects higher up the drug-dealing chain. In fact, that was the primary purpose behind New Jersey’s "Strict Liability for Drug-Induced Death" law when it went into effect in 1987.
However, some argue that the law was used sparsely after its adoption because it was ineffective at serving that purpose.
Critics say that high-level drug dealers hardly ever have direct contact with their customers, so it’s often young people who are low on the drug-dealing totem pole who take the fall.
In fact, according to the New Jersey Law Journal, prosecutors only used the law 32 times in the first 17 years it existed and 25 of these cases involved friends of the overdose victims. Only three cases resulted in the prosecution of actual drug dealers.
Additionally, even though it is becoming more common for prosecutors throughout the country to charge suspected drug dealers in overdose deaths under similar laws, New Jersey’s law is stricter than legislation in most other states.
For example, Minnesota and Pennsylvania have similar laws, but suspects are charged with third-degree felonies instead of homicide.
Ultimately, drug-related laws in New Jersey and the rest of the nation have only become more complex in recent years. That’s why it’s extremely important to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side after being charged with drug crimes.
Source: CNN, “New Jersey prosecutors hit dealers with homicide charges in overdose deaths,” Lorenzo Ferrigno, March 11, 2014