Territorial Applicability of the Drug-Induced Death Statute (Part 4)

by | Jul 21, 2019 | Blog, Drug Crime

The Court continued in relevant part: N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9 does not require that a defendant distribute drugs directly to the victim to be found guilty of violating the statute. A defendant can be found guilty of causing a drug-induced death even if there are intervening links in the chain between the distributor and the victim. N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9 is intended to apply to every wrongdoer in the distribution chain. However, when the links become too attenuated, a jury may determine that the drug-induced death is too remote in its occurrence or too dependent upon conduct of another person as to have a just bearing on the defendant’s liability.

The State has satisfied the conduct-element requirement for territorial jurisdiction. See N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1). Sufficient evidence in the grand jury record establishes that the heroin Byrd distributed in New Jersey ultimately caused Cabral’s drug-induced death, thus rendering Byrd generally subject to this State’s territorial jurisdiction under N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1).

The only remaining question is whether Byrd’s case falls within the exception to territorial jurisdiction delineated in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(b). The State cannot exercise territorial jurisdiction when causing a specified result is an element of an offense and the result occurs in another jurisdiction where the conduct charged would not constitute an offense, unless a legislative purpose plainly appears to declare the conduct criminal regardless of the place of the result (emphasis added). We must review the constituent parts of N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(b) to determine their applicability to the facts before us.

The parties do not dispute that the “specified result” — the drug-induced death of Cabral — is an element of the offense of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9 or that the “result” occurred in another jurisdiction. The parties, however, contest the meaning of the words “the conduct charged” in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(b). Byrd claims that the term “the conduct charged” refers to the completed strict-liability crime of a drug-induced death, which is not an offense in New York. That interpretation would trigger the territorial-jurisdiction exception. The State, however, posits that the term “the conduct charged” refers only to an element of the offense — distribution of a controlled dangerous substance, which is a violation of the laws of both New Jersey and New York. The State’s interpretation would nullify the application of the territorial-jurisdiction exception.

This case will likely lead for a push for New York and New Jersey’s other neighboring states to enact strict liability for drug-induced death laws. Otherwise, dealers of potentially-lethal narcotics would be motivated to conduct business in the states without legislation. Moreover, any legislation seen as tough on crime is a popular move for legislators looking to curry favor with voters.