Territorial Applicability of the Drug-Induced Death Statute (Part 6)

by | Jul 25, 2019 | Blog, Drug Crime

The Court continued in relevant part: We therefore conclude that, here, “conduct charged” means the strict-liability offense of a drug-induced death, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9. That offense is not punishable as a crime in New York. Therefore, New Jersey does not have territorial jurisdiction “unless a legislative purpose plainly appears to declare” that a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9 is prosecutable in this State, regardless of the place where the drug-induced death occurred. See N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(b).

The Legislature passed the strict-liability drug-induced death statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9, as part of the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1987 (Act). See L. 1987, c. 106, § 1 (eff. June 22, 1987). In its extensive declarations of public policy, the Legislature set forth its many reasons for passing the Act. N.J.S.A. 2C:35-1.1. Those declarations state, in part, that the “manufacture and distribution of controlled dangerous substances continues to pose a serious and pervasive threat to the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of this State”; that “New Jersey continues to experience an unacceptably high rate of drug-related crime, and continues to serve as a conduit for the illegal trafficking of drugs to and from other jurisdictions”; and that “the battle against drug abuse and drug-related crime must be waged aggressively at every level along the drug distribution chain.” Furthermore, the Legislature expressed its intention “to provide for the strict punishment, deterrence and incapacitation of the most culpable and dangerous drug offenders.”

The Act and its declarations clearly express a commitment to battle unlawful drug distribution with an array of new criminal laws and enhanced sentences to promote “the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of this State.” The declarations are many and general in nature, but none specifically express an intention to apply the laws of New Jersey extra-territorially — to criminalize conduct in this State that, further down the chain, causes a result in another jurisdiction where the conduct charged is not a crime.

It is unclear whether the New Jersey Legislature even has the power to criminalize conduct affecting the citizens of other states. The protection of other states’ citizens is not a topic that we would expect our state Legislature to address.