Territorial Applicability of the Drug-Induced Death Statute (Part 3)

by | Jul 19, 2019 | Blog, Drug Crime

Justice Albin continued in relevant part: Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State at this procedural juncture, the State cannot establish an act of distribution by Ferguson and Potts in New Jersey that would allow the exercise of territorial jurisdiction on the drug-induced death charge. When there are no facts in the record on which a rational trier of fact could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was committed within the State, the court may dismiss the indictment. In the case of Ferguson and Potts, no essential element constituting the crime of causing a drug-induced death occurred in New Jersey. Accordingly, we hold that the Appellate Division properly affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of that charge against Ferguson and Potts.

In the case of Byrd, we reach a different result on the issue of “distribution.” The plain language of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9(a) provides that “any person who distributes any controlled dangerous substance, in violation of subsection a. of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5, is strictly liable for a death” caused by the drug. At the grand jury hearing, the State presented evidence that Byrd distributed to Ferguson and Potts in New Jersey the heroin they later sold to Cabral — the heroin Cabral ingested causing his death. Therefore, the conduct element of the drug-induced death statute — distribution of heroin — occurred in New Jersey, satisfying a key prerequisite for territorial jurisdiction. See N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1).

This was an atypical motion to dismiss the indictment because the State had no way of ever demonstrating that the defendants committed the relevant act of distribution to the decedent in New Jersey. The counter-productive aspect of a typical motion to dismiss an indictment is that it shows the prosecution the holes in their case and guides them in closing those holes during trial preparation. It also guides the prosecution before representment of the case to the grand jury for a superseding indictment. Moreover, most deficiencies in their case are considered “technical” and harmless to the defendant’s rights if the defendant is convicted at trial. That is because proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard for a conviction at trial, whereas the much lower probable cause standard is all that is required for an indictment.