State v. Byrd et al.

The ACLU-NJ participated as amicus curiae in a case that examined the reach of New Jersey’s statute that creates a first-degree strict liability crime for distributing drugs that lead to the death of another person. New Jersey is one of a minority of states with an offense of a “drug-induced homicide.” Evidence shows that these harsh laws do nothing to address the drug overdose crisis and instead deter people from seeking help when someone is overdosing. While the strict liability provision of the statute was previously upheld by the New Jersey Supreme Court, we argue that because strict liability offenses are disfavored, this court should not expand the scope of the statute. In this case, defendants Ferguson and Potts purchased heroin in New Jersey from defendant Byrd. They then went to New York and sold it to a resident who subsequently overdosed and died.  Byrd, Ferguson and Potts were all indicted in New Jersey with, among other things, the drug-induced death of the New York resident. With respect to Ferguson and Potts, the Appellate Division correctly held that the statute only applies when the conduct occurs in New Jersey, and as such, the state lacked territorial jurisdiction to prosecute the offense. With respect to Byrd, we argued that it is logically inconsistent and unjust to hold Byrd liable when Ferguson and Potts were the defendants who directly interacted with the decedent because the court lacks territorial jurisdiction and because the death was too remote in occurrence to justly hold Byrd liable.

Status

The New Jersey Supreme Court heard argument on February 26, 2019.

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