Territorial Applicability of the Drug-Induced Death Statute (Part 7)

by | Jul 27, 2019 | Blog, Drug Crime

Justice Albin concluded in relevant part: Under N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(b), we cannot impute or infer a legislative purpose to prosecute a drug-induced death as a strict-liability offense in New Jersey when the direct distribution to the victim and the drug-induced death occurred in New York, where there is no comparable strict-liability criminal law. A legislative purpose to extend the statute beyond New Jersey’s borders must “plainly” appear. That standard is not met if reasonable people can differ about the reach of New Jersey’s laws criminalizing events in another jurisdiction — here, New York — that does not share New Jersey’s policy concerns. We cannot discern a plain legislative purpose calling for Byrd’s prosecution for the strict-liability drug-induced death of Cabral, when New York, where the death occurred, would not prosecute such an offense.

In summary, New Jersey does not have territorial jurisdiction to prosecute Ferguson and Potts for Cabral’s drug-induced death because they did not distribute drugs in New Jersey or cause his death in this State. We also hold that New Jersey does not have territorial jurisdiction to prosecute Byrd for Cabral’s death because New York has no criminal law punishing as a strict-liability offense the drug-induced death of Cabral and because the Legislature has not plainly indicated a purpose to prosecute Byrd for a N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9 offense in these circumstances.

Last, we note that Ferguson, Potts, and Byrd are subject to multiple remaining counts in the indictment for their drug activity in New Jersey. This appeal resolves only one charge.

For the reasons expressed, we affirm the Appellate Division’s judgment dismissing the drug-induced death charges against Ferguson and Potts and reverse its judgment upholding the drug-induced death charge against Byrd. We conclude that New Jersey does not have territorial jurisdiction to prosecute Ferguson, Potts, or Byrd for the drug-induced death of Cabral in New York. We remand to the trial court for the disposition of the remaining charges against Ferguson, Potts, and Byrd.

The language in the Court’s opinion about New York not sharing New Jersey’s policy concerns regarding drug-induced deaths will almost certainly encourage Legislative action by New York. Otherwise, it will likely encourage the New Jersey Legislature to amend 2C:35-9 to make it clear that the law applies to situations where the ultimate distribution and death occur outside of New Jersey.