Drug Dealer Liability for Drug Overdose in NJ

Drug Dealer Liability for Drug Overdose of CustomerWhat is the Drug Dealer Liability Policy in NJ?

Within the past few years, New Jersey has seen a disturbing rise in the use of highly addictive drugs, such as heroin and opiates.  Once confined mostly to inner cities, such as Camden and Asbury Park, the heroin epidemic now plagues even traditionally safe communities such as Brick Township, which currently ranks among the top 10 municipalities in New Jersey for heroin use.  In fact, the Jersey Shore is home to several communities with an alarming rate of drug overdose fatalities.  Between 2012 and 2013, Ocean County had 112 overdose fatalities, which was more than double the amount of such deaths in the previous year.

In response to the increasing rate of heroin and opiate overdoses throughout the state, New Jersey has revived the “Strict Liability for Drug-Induced Death” policy against drug dealers whose clients die as a result of an overdose.  The law is based on the “felony murder” rule, under which a defendant can be charged with murder if a death occurs during the commission of a felony (or “indictable crime” in New Jersey), such as arson or armed robbery.  Although this law has been on the books since 1986, it has rarely been used due to the difficulty of tracking down the offender, especially within large scale drug operations.  There have been legal debates over the severity of the law.  Those who oppose it argue that sellers of guns are not considered murderers if their products result in someone’s death, thus the same logic should apply to those who distribute drugs.

NJ Drug Overdoses Doubled in Recent Years

Despite such arguments, the law is starting to gain support throughout the nation, as grim statistics reveal that drug overdose fatalities in the U.S. more than doubled from 2000 to 2010.  The majority of these incidents were heroin overdose fatalities, which increased by more than 60% according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato has publicly supported the policy, stating that the strict liability law “is one of the tools in my tool chest to attack this problem.”  Furthermore, Coronato advised that all overdose-related fatalities will now be treated as homicides, with the investigation focusing on finding the drug dealer and charging him or her appropriately.  Since April 2013, Coronato has tried 12 cases under the strict liability statute, one of which resulted in a guilty plea.  Whether this can be viewed as a success or a failure, Coronato has no plans to stop prosecuting drug dealers under this law, advising, “if you’re going to be a dealer, and that heroin is going to kill somebody, we’re going to take that death… and we’ll treat it as a homicide”.  The penalties are extremely serious for a conviction under this law, which include a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Get a Free Consultation from a Drug Crime Attorney

Regardless of arguments over the constitutionality of such a law and whether it’s truly effective as a deterrent in the war against drugs, its growing popularity is indicative of New Jersey’s increasingly tough stance against drug offenders.  If you have been charged with a drug offense in Ocean or Monmouth County, you must speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney right away about your drug dealer liability.  At Villani & DeLuca, your case will be personally reviewed by founding partner, Carmine R. Villani, Esq.  As a former municipal prosecutor, Mr. Villani is experienced in both the prosecution and defense of drug offenses.  He will be happy to answer all your questions pertaining to your right and defense options.  Call (732) 965-3350 for a free consultation!