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Bergen County men charged with manslaughter in heroin overdose


New Jersey prosecutors are beginning to rely more heavily on an old strict liability law in order to hold suspected drug dealers responsible in drug overdose cases.

As means of fighting a growing rate of drug overdose deaths in the state, prosecutors are attempting to hold suspected drug dealers strictly liable for "drug-induced death.”

Essentially, strict liability within criminal law means that a defendant can be convicted of a crime even if the defendant didn’t necessarily intend for the end result to occur.

When it comes to strict liability for drug-induced death charges, it means that even if the defendant didn’t necessarily have the intent to commit murder, by selling the overdose victim the drugs the defendant can be held strictly liable for the death.

Until recently, New Jersey’s strict-liability statute has been largely unused by prosecutors because it is much more severe than traditional drug charges as it treats drug dealers as murderers.

Additionally, it can be difficult to track down parties responsible for deadly drug deals.

However, the Bergen County prosecutor said an epidemic of fatal drug overdoses in the state, especially involving heroin, is calling for greater use of the decades-old law.

“With more and more people dying from heroin overdose, we will be looking into each and every overdose case” in order to hold drug dealers responsible, the Bergen County prosecutor said last year after two suspected drug dealers were arrested in connection with a Emerson woman’s fatal heroin overdose.

The 27- and 26-year-old suspects were indicted this week on multiple charges relating to the death, including first-degree strict liability for drug-induced death, second-degree manslaughter and third-degree distribution and possession of heroin.

While drug crimes have always been treated seriously in the state of New Jersey, the resurrection of the strict liability for drug-induced death charges means that state prosecutors are not messing around.

Anyone who is charged with a drug crime in New Jersey will need a vigorous defense from an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Source: The Record, "Two Bergen County men indicted in heroin death of Emerson Woman," Peter J. Sampson, April 15, 2014

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