Drug Induced Homicide In
In an effort to combat the rising tide of fatalities, many states have implemented Drug Induced Homicide laws to hold drug dealers accountable for the deaths.
Fortunately, New Jersey is one of those states. The following is an excerpt from New Jersey State Law:
a. 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.
b. The provisions of N.J.S. 2C:2-3 (governing the causal relationship between conduct and result) shall not apply in a prosecution under this section. For purposes of this offense, the defendant’s act of manufacturing, distributing or dispensing a substance is the cause of a death when:
(1) The injection, inhalation or ingestion of the substance is an antecedent but for which the death would not have occurred; and
(2) The death was not:
(a) too remote in its occurrence as to have a just bearing on the defendant’s liability; or
(b) too dependent upon conduct of another person which was unrelated to the injection, inhalation or ingestion of the substance or its effect as to have a just bearing on the defendant’s liability.
c. It shall not be a defense to a prosecution under this section that the decedent contributed to his own death by his purposeful, knowing, reckless or negligent injection, inhalation or ingestion of the substance, or by his consenting to the administration of the substance by another.
d. Nothing in this section shall be construed to preclude or limit any prosecution for homicide. Notwithstanding the provisions of N.J.S. 2C:1-8 or any other provision of law, a conviction arising under this section shall not merge with a conviction for leader of narcotics trafficking network, maintaining or operating a controlled dangerous substance production facility, or for unlawfully manufacturing, distributing, dispensing or possessing with intent to manufacture, distribute or dispense the controlled dangerous substance or controlled substance analog which resulted in the death.
a. Except as otherwise provided, a person who has been convicted of a crime may be sentenced to imprisonment, as follows:
(1) In the case of a crime of the first degree, for a specific term of years which shall be fixed by the court and shall be between 10 years and 20 years;
(2) In the case of a crime of the second degree, for a specific term of years which shall be fixed by the court and shall be between five years and 10 years;
(3) In the case of a crime of the third degree, for a specific term of years which shall be fixed by the court and shall be between three years and five years;
(4) In the case of a crime of the fourth degree, for a specific term which shall be fixed by the court and shall not exceed 18 months.
b. As part of a sentence for any crime, where the court is clearly convinced that the aggravating factors substantially outweigh the mitigating factors, as set forth in subsections a. and b. of 2C:44-1, or the court finds that the aggravating factor set forth in paragraph (5) of subsection a. of N.J.S.2C:44-1 applies, the court may fix a minimum term not to exceed one-half of the term set pursuant to subsection a., or one-half of the term set pursuant to a maximum period of incarceration for a crime set forth in any statute other than this code, during which the defendant shall not be eligible for parole; provided that no defendant shall be eligible for parole at a date earlier than otherwise provided by the law governing parole.
c. A person who has been convicted under subsection b. or d. of N.J.S.2C:39-3, subsection a. of N.J.S.2C:39-4, subsection a. of section 1 of P.L.1998, c.26 (C.2C:39-4.1), subsection a., b., c., or f. of N.J.S.2C:39-5, subsection a. or paragraph (2) or (3) of subsection b. of section 6 of P.L.1979, c.179 (C.2C:39-7), or subsection a., b., e. or g. of N.J.S.2C:39-9, or of a crime under any of the following sections: 2C:11-3, 2C:11-4, 2C:12-1b., 2C:13-1, 2C:14-2a., 2C:14-3a., 2C:15-1, 2C:18-2, 2C:29-5, who, while in the course of committing or attempting to commit the crime, including the immediate flight therefrom, used or was in possession of a firearm as defined in 2C:39-1f., shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment by the court. The term of imprisonment shall include the imposition of a minimum term. The minimum term shall be fixed at one-half of the sentence imposed by the court or 42 months, whichever is greater, or 18 months in the case of a fourth degree crime, during which the defendant shall be ineligible for parole.
The minimum terms established by this section shall not prevent the court from imposing presumptive terms of imprisonment pursuant to 2C:44-1f. (1) except in cases of crimes of the fourth degree.
A person who has been convicted of an offense enumerated by this subsection and who used or possessed a firearm during its commission, attempted commission or flight therefrom and who has been previously convicted of an offense involving the use or possession of a firearm as defined in 2C:44-3d., shall be sentenced by the court to an extended term as authorized by 2C:43-7c., notwithstanding that extended terms are ordinarily discretionary with the court.
d. (1) The court shall not impose a mandatory sentence pursuant to subsection c. of this section, 2C:43-7c. or 2C:44-3d., unless the ground therefor has been established at a hearing. At the hearing, which may occur at the time of sentencing, the prosecutor shall establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the weapon used or possessed was a firearm. In making its finding, the court shall take judicial notice of any evidence, testimony or information adduced at the trial, plea hearing, or other court proceedings and shall also consider the presentence report and any other relevant information.
(2) The court shall not impose a mandatory sentence pursuant to subsection c. of this section for a violation of paragraph (2) of subsection b. of N.J.S.2C:39-5; a violation of paragraph (2) of subsection c. of N.J.S.2C:39-5, if that rifle or shotgun is in the nature of an air gun, spring gun or pistol or other weapon of a similar nature in which the propelling force is a spring, elastic band, carbon dioxide, compressed or other gas or vapor, air or compressed air, or is ignited by compressed air, and ejecting a bullet or missile smaller than three-eighths of an inch in diameter, with sufficient force to injure a person; or a violation of paragraph (1) of subsection c. of N.J.S.2C:39-5.
e. A person convicted of a third or subsequent offense involving State taxes under N.J.S.2C:20-9, N.J.S.2C:21-15, any other provision of this code, or under any of the provisions of Title 54 of the Revised Statutes, or Title 54A of the New Jersey Statutes, as amended and supplemented, shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment by the court. This shall not preclude an application for and imposition of an extended term of imprisonment under N.J.S.2C:44-3 if the provisions of that section are applicable to the offender.
f. A person convicted of manufacturing, distributing, dispensing or possessing with intent to distribute any dangerous substance or controlled substance analog under N.J.S.2C:35-5, of maintaining or operating a controlled dangerous substance production facility under N.J.S.2C:35-4, of employing a juvenile in a drug distribution scheme under N.J.S.2C:35-6, leader of a narcotics trafficking network under N.J.S.2C:35-3, or of distributing, dispensing or possessing with intent to distribute on or near school property or buses under section 1 of P.L.1987, c.101 (C.2C:35-7), who has been previously convicted of manufacturing, distributing, dispensing or possessing with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance or controlled substance analog, shall upon application of the prosecuting attorney be sentenced by the court to an extended term as authorized by subsection c. of N.J.S.2C:43-7, notwithstanding that extended terms are ordinarily discretionary with the court. The term of imprisonment shall, except as may be provided in N.J.S.2C:35-12, include the imposition of a minimum term. The minimum term shall be fixed at, or between, one-third and one-half of the sentence imposed by the court or three years, whichever is greater, not less than seven years if the person is convicted of a violation of N.J.S.2C:35-6, or 18 months in the case of a fourth degree crime, during which the defendant shall be ineligible for parole.
The court shall not impose an extended term pursuant to this subsection unless the ground therefor has been established at a hearing. At the hearing, which may occur at the time of sentencing, the prosecutor shall establish the ground therefor by a preponderance of the evidence. In making its finding, the court shall take judicial notice of any evidence, testimony or information adduced at the trial, plea hearing, or other court proceedings and shall also consider the presentence report and any other relevant information.
For the purpose of this subsection, a previous conviction exists where the actor has at any time been convicted under chapter 35 of this title or Title 24 of the Revised Statutes or under any similar statute of the United States, this State, or any other state for an offense that is substantially equivalent to N.J.S.2C:35-3, N.J.S.2C:35-4, N.J.S.2C:35-5, N.J.S.2C:35-6 or section 1 of P.L.1987, c.101 (C.2C:35-7).
g. Any person who has been convicted under subsection a. of N.J.S.2C:39-4 or of a crime under any of the following sections: N.J.S.2C:11-3, N.J.S.2C:11-4, N.J.S.2C:12-1b., N.J.S.2C:13-1, N.J.S.2C:14-2a., N.J.S.2C:14-3a., N.J.S.2C:15-1, N.J.S.2C:18-2, N.J.S.2C:29-5, N.J.S.2C:35-5 who, while in the course of committing or attempting to commit the crime, including the immediate flight therefrom, used or was in possession of a machine gun or assault firearm shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment by the court. The term of imprisonment shall include the imposition of a minimum term. The minimum term shall be fixed at 10 years for a crime of the first or second degree, five years for a crime of the third degree, or 18 months in the case of a fourth degree crime, during which the defendant shall be ineligible for parole.
The minimum terms established by this section shall not prevent the court from imposing presumptive terms of imprisonment pursuant to paragraph (1) of subsection f. of N.J.S.2C:44-1 for crimes of the first degree.
A person who has been convicted of an offense enumerated in this subsection and who used or possessed a machine gun or assault firearm during its commission, attempted commission or flight therefrom and who has been previously convicted of an offense involving the use or possession of any firearm as defined in subsection d. of N.J.S.2C:44-3, shall be sentenced by the court to an extended term as authorized by subsection d. of N.J.S.2C:43-7, notwithstanding that extended terms are ordinarily discretionary with the court.
h. The court shall not impose a mandatory sentence pursuant to subsection g. of this section, subsection d. of N.J.S.2C:43-7 or N.J.S.2C:44-3, unless the ground therefor has been established at a hearing. At the hearing, which may occur at the time of sentencing, the prosecutor shall establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the weapon used or possessed was a machine gun or assault firearm. In making its finding, the court shall take judicial notice of any evidence, testimony or information adduced at the trial, plea hearing, or other court proceedings and shall also consider the presentence report and any other relevant information.
i. A person who has been convicted under paragraph (6) of subsection b. of 2C:12-1 of causing bodily injury while eluding shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment by the court. The term of imprisonment shall include the imposition of a minimum term. The minimum term shall be fixed at, or between one-third and one-half of the sentence imposed by the court. The minimum term established by this subsection shall not prevent the court from imposing a presumptive term of imprisonment pursuant to paragraph (1) of subsection f. of 2C:44-1.
What You Can Do
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Our mission is to:
- Raise awareness about the effectiveness of criminal investigation and prosecution in reducing deaths related to illicit drugs.
- Advocate for a shift in thinking within our judicial system away from past protocols focusing on accidental to now classifying cases as criminal.
- Advocate for laws that provide greater accountability to those who willfully distribute illicit drugs.
- Support families of victims who were unlawfully delivered a controlled substance resulting in death.
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Understanding Drug Induced Homicide Law
From the Attorney General’s point of view.
Read the Brief
For many years, most prosecutors charged only those drug-related deaths involving rival drug gang fights as being homicides. But the focus has now broadened to also examine overdose deaths as prosecutable homicides against those who sold and distributed the drugs causing the overdose. It is important to emphasize that not every death because of a drug overdose is a criminal matter. Some are suicides, and some are simply accidents. But some deaths, legally and ethically, may rise to the level of criminal homicide. These homicides may not be easily discovered, investigated, prosecuted or proven, but they still deserve attention. For that to happen, a paradigm shift in thinking by law enforcement officers and prosecutors is required, away from attitudes focusing on accident to thinking and treating overdoses as homicides.
In order to make that shift, it is important to understand and appreciate the variety of approaches available within existing statutory schemes and case law. While a handful of states have no statutory or case law basis for treating overdose deaths as homicides, the majority already had or have adopted a wide variety of legal theories useful in addressing these cases. Two basic options highlight the differing approaches: use of the existing statutory structure, often referred to as the felony murder rule, and creation of a specific offense of death resulting from the distribution of controlled substances.
What might be characterized as the traditional approach to the matter may be found in those states that have included overdose deaths within their murder statute. Arizona and Oklahoma, among others, list drug offenses as crimes which, when a death occurs during the commission of that offense, is treated as murder. A significant number of states enumerate drug offenses within their murder statutes and, while the laws have been on the books for a considerable time, they are only now being considered for use in overdose cases.
A felony murder statute allows the prosecutor to charge an offense which requires no specific mental state other than that required for the enumerated offense; the law may specifically state that no proof of intent to cause the death is required. In general, proof of the underlying offense and the cause of death will be sufficient to obtain a conviction under this approach. Additional elements, such as proof that the underlying felony must be inherently dangerous to human life, or proof of recklessness in both causation and appreciation or awareness of the risk, may be required in some states.
Where these various felony murder states differ is in their classifications for punishment for the offense. The possibilities range from first degree or capital murder, second degree murder, manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and even negligent homicide. They may also limit the application of the statute. For example, Florida’s statute applies only to distribution by an adult, while Colorado’s statute applies only to distribution to a minor on school grounds.
Those states punishing drug dealing resulting in death as a specific offense have adopted a variety of approaches as well. These “drug-induced homicide” statutes are crafted as stand-alone felonies rather than being included in existing murder or other statutes. Again, as with the felony murder alternatives, the treatment of punishment and application may vary. New Hampshire and New Jersey both define the offense as being one of strict liability. Both statutes, mirroring one another, apply to methamphetamine, lysergic acid, diethylamide phencyclidine (PCP), or any other Schedule I and II controlled substances and provides that any person who manufactures, sells, or dispenses the substances in violation of law is strictly liable for a death resulting from their use.
The varieties of these statutes are numerous and diverse. Pennsylvania’s statute applies to any controlled substance and provides that the delivery must be done intentionally. Delaware has imposed a minimum weight threshold to its statute, requiring, for example, that there be delivery of at least one gram or more of heroin. Michigan’s law covers Schedule I and II controlled substances, but specifically excludes marijuana. A recent amendment to the Illinois law allows for prosecution for a death within the state caused by a drug that was delivered outside the state in violation of the law of that other jurisdiction.
For those states, such as California, which have no felony murder or drug-induced homicide statute that would apply to overdose situations, prosecutors are left to cobble together a criminal liability theory using a second degree murder or manslaughter charge with a negligence or reckless element. California might make use of its involuntary manslaughter statute. New York might make use of its statutes regarding criminally negligent homicide (criminal negligence standard) or manslaughter in the second degree (reckless standard). A bill to amend Ohio’s involuntary manslaughter statute to include causing or contributing to the death of a person as a result of the sale, delivery, or administration of a controlled substance and making it a strict liability offense was introduced but has languished since 2016.
Regardless of the criminal statute scheme, one element is the lynchpin to the crime: causation. Whether a felony murder, strict liability, or reckless or negligent theory, causation raises perhaps the most difficult issues in proving these cases.
Overdose cases have a number of matters that may cause the prosecutor some concern, from lack of sympathy for the victim to proving who provided the drugs. On top of these, many of the victims in overdose death cases are polysubstance abusers, injecting or ingesting a wide variety of both legal and illegal substances. Further, because of their drug addictions, their overall general health may be compromised, making them susceptible to diseases and conditions which might impact the situation leading to their deaths. It becomes imperative for the prosecutor to understand what is needed to prove regarding causation.
States have enumerated a variety of different legal standards for causation of death; “direct result,” “caused by,” “proximately caused,” and “results from” being the more common. Also included are “recklessly causes” and “more likely than not.” Each standard has its own legal ramification. It is important to note, however, that the analysis of proximate causation in tort law is quite different from that analysis applied in criminal law. Mere negligence may suffice in a personal injury case, but not in a criminal matter where gross or wanton disregard is needed to show criminal negligence.
In those states making use of a result-oriented scheme, states may follow the reasoning set forth in the leading federal case on the issue, Burrage v United States. Burrage was prosecuted under the provisions of 21 U. S. C. § 841(b) (1) (C) which provides for punishment in the event that “death or serious bodily injury result[ed] from the use of [the drug].” In Burrage, long-time drug user Banka died following an extended binge that included using heroin purchased from Burrage. At trial, medical experts testified that Bank might have died even if he had not taken the heroin Burrage provided. Denying a motion for judgment of acquittal, the trial court instructed the jury that the government only had to prove that heroin was a contributing cause of death. The U.S. Supreme Court looked at both actual and proximate cause, holding that, at least where the use of the drug distributed by Burrage was not an independently sufficient cause of the victim’s death, he could not be held liable unless such use is a “but-for” cause of death. Thus, under Burrage, a particular drug causing a contributory effect to death is not sufficient to create criminal liability.
This narrow approach to causation makes it especially important that the medical examiner and toxicologist both be consulted prior to initiating a prosecution. Beyond the issue of whether the death is an accident versus a homicide, the medical examiner and toxicologist must understand the legal requirements and what ultimately may be asked of them during testimony in homicide prosecutions such as these. The prosecutor must also understand the distinctions and potential nuances in the medical examiner’s stated cause of death.
Even under a felony murder scheme, often seen as a strict liability situation, causation may still be required. For example, the sole act of selling heroin to a purchaser, who, voluntarily and out of the presence and without the assistance of the seller, subsequently injected heroin and died as a result, may be insufficient to invoke the felony murder rule. In order to convict of felony-murder, it may be necessary in some jurisdictions to show that the conduct causing the death was done while in the commission of a felony or in furtherance of the design to commit the felony. Thus, if the commission of the felony is completed upon the sale, a felony murder charge cannot stand. Nor may the result causation element be ignored even in the strict liability situations. These statutes may still contain a result oriented causation requirement.
Thus, even when not specifically enumerated in the statute, causation remains an essential element. For example, where manufacturing or delivering a controlled substance is the underlying felony relied upon in a felony murder prosecution, the state might still be required to prove (1) the commission or attempt to commit the felony; (2) the defendant’s participation in such felony; and (3) the death of the victim as a result of injuries received during the course of the commission or attempt. Furthermore, the cause of death might not necessarily be the sole cause of death. And where the medical examiner has found that the ingestion of the drug was not the sole cause of death, the prosecutor will face an additional legal hurdle. Thus, in order to make the shift to treating overdose deaths as homicides, it is imperative that investigators and prosecutors find not only the correct legal scheme under which to proceed, but also be mindful of the causation element embedded in a statute or required by a jurisdiction’s case law.
Prosecuting overdose deaths as homicides will not be the silver bullet to the public health crisis this nation faces. However, it is one tool in the law enforcement arsenal which, if used appropriately, can assist locally in focusing on the drug dealers who take advantage of those who have become addicted to opioids.
Sources and Works Cited
 The offense of trafficking a controlled substance by possession with intent to distribute cannot be the predicate felony to a felony murder conviction because it is not an inherently dangerous crime. State v. Bankert, 117 N.M. 614, 975 P.2d 370 (1994).
 Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-1105 and 21 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 21-701/7.
 Alaska Stat. § 11.41.120.
 Minn. Stat. § 609.195.
 Ga. Code Ann. § 16-5-1.
 Iowa Code § 707.5.
 See, e.g., Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-1105, Ga. Code Ann. § 16-5-1.
 La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14:30.1, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 565.021.
 Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 265, § 13.
 Nev. Rev. Stat. § 200.070.
 Mont. Code Ann. § 45-5-104.
 Fla. Stat. § 782.04(1(a)3.
 Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-3-102(e).
 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann § 318-B:26; N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:35-9.
 Tit. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2506.
 Del. Code Ann .tit 16 § 4752B.
 Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.317a.
 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/9-3.3.
 Cal. Penal Code § 192.
 N.Y. Penal Law §§ 125.10, 125.15.
 H.B. 141, 132nd General Assembly.
 134 S. Ct. 881 (2014).
 See State v. Mauldin, 215 Kan. 956, 529 P.2d 124 (1974)
 N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:35-9
 See., e.g., State v. Williams, 172 W.Va. 295, 305 S.E.2d 251 (1983)
 See State v. Jenkins, 229 W.Va. 415, 729 S.E.2d 250 (2012)