Drug Delivery Resulting in Death in Pennsylvania – Why the Prosecution Doesn’t Need to Prove an Intentional Killing
Our criminal defense law firm represents individuals charged with different drug crimes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The severity of these criminal offenses ranges from felonies to misdemeanors and sometimes even summary offenses (low level marijuana). There are ae situations where individuals are not only charged with drug distribution or delivery but also a delivery that results in another person’s death as the result of using a controlled, dangerous substance (CDS).
In Pennsylvania, a person commits a felony of the 1st degree if he or she intentionally dispenses, delivers, or distributes any controlled substance under Pennsylvania’s Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act (780-113(a)(30)) and that drug delivery results in another person’s death
What is different about this criminal charge? The prosecution doesn’t have to prove an intentional killing
This is a unique charge as it does not require the Commonwealth to establish beyond a reasonable doubt an intentional killing but rather that the death came from the reckless action of the defendant. Pennsylvania courts have ruled that the reckless disregard for the risk of death from the use of contraband from a substance like crack cocaine, heroin, PCP, methamphetamine, any other narcotic or drug is the equivalent to an intentional act!
How do Pennsylvania Courts interpret this criminal charge?
Very recently in Pennsylvania, a court convicted an individual who sold to a recovering addict through a third party. On appeal, the court found that even though the defendant could not have known that a sale to a third party could result in death, that was immaterial, since, but for the defendant selling to the third party the victim would not have overdosed on the drug.
In another case, the court found that the prosecution expert’s testimony regarding the victims use of heroin ultimately caused his death, even though other drugs were present in his system. The court found that it was clearly foreseeable that if you give a person a lethal or potentially lethal dose of heroin the person could die even if other drugs are involved.
It is therefore not a strong defense to argue that the alleged victim was a drug addict. The defense should focus on creating reasonable doubt with regards to the defendant’s conduct being a substantial factor in inducing death and that other factors were the likely cause of it. This may require a defense expert witness to question the prosecution’s theory.
Drug delivery resulting in death is a felony of the 1st degree in Pennsylvania and the maximum sentence is 40 years of state incarceration! This is a very serious crime and even a person with no prior criminal history faces a likely state prison sentence. If you’re charged with this crime in Pennsylvania, your criminal defense lawyer should consider not only trial arguments but pre-trial arguments which focus on admissibility of evidence (motion to suppress). In addition, I would also recommend that your defense lawyer considers motions to quash (habeaus) motions, which directly call into question whether the prosecution met the prima facia burden of proof at the preliminary hearing in your case.