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Drug-Induced Death and Liability

February 26, 2016 | Posted In Criminal Law

Illegal drugs are nothing new, but in recent years, their use has become much more common and has branched out into the creation of hundreds of varied substances that put users at risk for injury, long-term health complications and even death.

Because many people who use illegal drugs are addicts who are unable to control their dependence on their drugs of choice, it can be hard to hold them accountable for their actions. Having or using illegal drugs has serious legal consequences, but often, the user needs more help rehabilitating and breaking the addiction than jail time and fines can provide.

In an effort to curb drug use where it starts, New Jersey’s Drug-Induced Death Law (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9) targets those who provide drugs regardless of whether they were using them or not. The law covers any instance of a death caused by injecting, ingesting or inhaling an illegal narcotic, and the person who supplied the drugs can be held completely responsible. The drug-induced death law can be applied to any Schedule I or Schedule II controlled dangerous substances.

Strict Liability Law

Because the law provides for strict liability, the distributor does not need to have intended for anyone to get hurt. The only thing the court needs to prove is that the death is linked to the drug usage and if no drugs were involved, the user would still be alive. According to the statute, there must be some kind of relationship between the person who made or distributed the drugs and the death.

Additionally, the New Jersey statute does not factor in the deceased person’s contribution to the incident. If the drug user was negligent in taking the illegal drugs, or used them recklessly and dangerously in such a way to contribute to his or her death, this does not negate the responsibility assigned to the provider under the state laws. Cases where the deceased person allowed another person to administer an illegal drug are also included under this law.

What Happens if You’re Convicted?

Anyone who has been convicted in a drug-induced death case faces a first-degree crime. This carries a 10- to 20-year prison sentence, along with fines of up to $200,000. Because the stakes are so high, the involvement of a criminal defense attorney is critical.

In order to secure a conviction, the state must prove that the accused manufactured, distributed, or provided the drug to the victim. This burden of proof is critical to the case because if the alleged distributor did not know he or she was providing an illegal substance (in cases where drugs are disguised as flour or sugar, for example), drug-induced death liability may not apply.

Additionally, if the person did not know that the drugs he or she provided are classified as Schedule I or Schedule II, he or she may be able to use that ignorance as a defense.

At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, we represent anyone who has been charged with drug crimes in the state. For more information on drug-induced death charges, contact a New Jersey drug crime defense lawyer at HCK today.

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