Can an Alleged Drug Dealer Face Criminal Charges When a Person Overdoses?

New Jersey is notorious for its tough laws and harsh criminal penalties. This includes harsh drug laws and gun laws. Many people probably realize that the failure to register a gun, unlawful use of a weapon, or possessing illegal drugs can result in harsh penalties. Likewise, people probably also realize that the sale of drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and other controlled substances can also result in the imposition of harsh criminal penalties that often include years in state prison. However, what people probably don’t realize is that New Jersey law also includes penalties for individuals who allegedly sell drugs when the drug results in an overdose death. While the law was passed decades ago, it is increasingly being used by state prosecutors as the heroin epidemic, including fentanyl-laced heroin, continues to impact the state. If these charges pertain to you, speak with an experienced NJ heroin possession charge defense lawyer today.

An experienced Atlantic City criminal defense lawyer of the Law Firm of John J. Zarych can fight to protect your rights and freedoms if you have been charges with a drug crime or other related criminal offenses. Likewise, we can also provide defense against first-degree criminal charges authorized by New Jersey’s Strict Liability For Drug Induced Deaths statute. To schedule a free and confidential consultation call us at (609) 616-4956 or contact us online.


Alleged Drug Dealers can Face First-Degree Criminal Charges for Overdose Deaths

New Jersey’s statute that permits prosecutors to bring first-degree criminal charges against an alleged drug dealer who sells, manufactures or otherwise distributes drugs resulting in an overdose reads:

Any person who manufactures, distributes or dispenses methamphetamine, lysergic acid diethylamide, phencyclidine or any other controlled dangerous substance classified in Schedules I or II, or any controlled substance analog thereof, in violation of subsection a. of N.J.S. 2C:35-5, is strictly liable for a death which results from the injection, inhalation or ingestion of that substance, and is guilty of a crime of the first degree.

Thus, the state must prove four elements to convict an individual of a first-degree crime under this statute.

Understanding the Elements the State Must Prove to Press Charges Due to an Overdose Death

First, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused manufactured, distributed or dispensed a controlled substance. Distribution of a substance merely requires a transfer and does not have to include monetary payment. Furthermore, the “controlled dangerous analog” language is particularly noteworthy because it means that non-controlled substances intended to replace or substitute for controlled substances can also give rise to this charge. Thus, while Fentanyl is a Schedule II drug, other unscheduled substances such as synthetic marijuana that is known to cause seizures and deaths can fall under this statute’s purview.

The state must also prove that the defendant acted knowingly or purposefully in the manufacture or transfer of the controlled substance. A person acts with knowledge when he or she is aware that by carrying out certain steps, that a particular result is almost certain to occur. A person can be said to act purposefully when he or she engages in certain conduct with the intent to bring about a certain result.


Third, the State must carry the burden of showing that the deceased individual injected, inhaled, or otherwise consumed the drug.

The fourth and final element the state must prove is that the person died as a result of their use of the drug or controlled substance analog. To do so, the State must prove three things:

  1. The prosecutor must show that without the act of taking or using the drug, the person would not have died.
  2. The New Jersey state prosecutor must also prove that the death of the individual was not too remote from the alleged drug dealer’s responsibility.
  3. Next, the prosecutor must show that the death of the individual was not too dependent on the actions or conduct of another person. For instance, this element would fail should the user of a scheduled drug dies as the passenger in a car accident following the use of the drug.

If the prosecutions for the State of New Jersey can prove these elements, the jury should convict the individual on a first-degree criminal charge. A first-degree indictable offense is the highest crime in New Jersey and can be punished by a prison sentence of a decade or more.

Experienced New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Protect Your Freedom

The aggressive and strategic criminal defense lawyers of the Law Firm of John J. Zarych can fight to protect individuals from the harsh consequences of criminal charges. When your freedom is on the line, our criminal defense team can fight to protect you. To schedule a free and confidential initial consultation call us at (609) 616-4956 or contact us online.

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