MAYS LANDING- The Strict Liability for Drug Induced Death statute was enacted in 1987. Over 28 years, from 1988 to 2016, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office brought 16 charges under the Strict Liability for Drug Induced Death statute and saw 10 convictions.
Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner and Assistant Prosecutor Rick McKelvey who is the designated assistant prosecutor for the ACPO- Drug-Related Death Investigation Squad/
According to a statement released by officials, since August 2017, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office has charged 13 individuals with first-degree Strict Liability for Drug Induced Death and one of them has been convicted. In an effort to combat the opioid epidemic in Atlantic County, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office established the Drug-Related Death (DRD) Investigation Squad within the ACPO Gangs, Guns, and Narcotics Unit on February 6, 2017.
According to officials the primary mission of the ACPO-DRD Squad is to assist local agencies with death investigations in cases when the cause of death is suspected to be an overdose of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS). Suspects believed to have been responsible for providing the decedent with the fatal CDS will be investigated for the crime of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9, Strict Liability for Drug-Induced Death, a crime of the First Degree.
It is through the cooperation between responding Officers, investigating Detectives, and members of the ACPO-DRD Squad that these cases are promptly investigated and the integrity of the investigations are maintained.
There is a two-pronged focus to the ACPO-DRD Squad: prevention, by getting apparently deadly drugs off the street as soon as possible, and enforcement, by determining who distributed the drugs and charging them with homicide if and when possible.
Every single case is reviewed by a detective, a supervisor and Assistant Prosecutor Rick McKelvey who is the designated assistant prosecutor for the ACPO-DRD Squad since its inception.
“To meet these goals, the ACPO-DRD Squad must act quickly in cooperation with local police departments, but also must be patient and thorough to develop the evidence necessary to charge for homicide,” said Assistant Prosecutor Rick McKelvey.
A charge for strict-liability homicide for drug-induced death carries a presumptive sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison. It requires a lengthy and thorough investigation that involves concluding that a particular drug was the cause of death and that the suspect was the person who distributed to the victim.
Authorities must rely on laboratory and medical examiner analyses, which can take as long as six months. In the event that evidence ultimately does not support a homicide charge, the unit is able to act quickly to get a potentially deadly batch of drugs off the street and often will charge dealers with other distribution-related crimes, which can carry significant sentences in their own right.
“We cannot promise that everyone who experiences this kind of loss will hear that someone is being held criminal responsible for distributing to their loved one. But we can promise that each case is investigated thoroughly by a team of investigators and an attorney dedicated to this process and those two key goals of preventing more tragedy and enforcement by holding those dealers responsible to the extent allowable by law,” Prosecutor Tyner said.