The opioid epidemic has significantly affected Bucks County, Montgomery County and almost every county in Pennsylvania. The number of deaths resulting from overdoses of illegal drugs such as heroin is dramatically rising across Pennsylvania. Toxicology test results found that heroin was present in approximately 55% of drug-related overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in 2015, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Pennsylvania is among 20 states with a drug-induced criminal homicide statute. Public pressure has led Pennsylvania state and local prosecutors to aggressively investigate and prosecute drug-related overdose deaths. Most state and local prosecutors now treat every case involving a fatal drug overdose as a potential homicide.
Increased Prosecutions for Drug Delivery Resulting in Death
According to statistics from the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System, the crime of drug delivery resulting in death was charged in a total of 15 cases in Pennsylvania in 2013. That number rose to 205 in 2017. The Bucks County District Attorney’s Office was among the leaders in filing and prosecuting drug delivery resulting in death cases.
Adverse Consequences of a Conviction
Individuals convicted of the crime of drug delivery resulting in death may face decades in prison along with significant fines, court costs and restitution. I have forcefully defended individuals charged with a wide range of drug offenses under the Pennsylvania Controlled Substances Act. It is important to have a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney on your side if you are charged with drug delivery resulting in death.
I have over a decade of experience providing skilled and aggressive representation to individuals charged with drug offenses in Bucks County, Montgomery County and the surrounding counties. Contact me at (215) 752-5282 for a free initial consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response. Appointments are available after business hours and on weekends.
Drug Delivery Resulting in Death Defined
Under 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 2506, the crime of drug delivery resulting in death occurs when a person intentionally administers, dispenses, delivers, gives, prescribes, sells or distributes any controlled substance or counterfeit substance in violation of section 13 (a), section 14 or 30 of the Pennsylvania Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act (Drug Act) and another person dies as a result of using the substance. Sections 13 and 14 of the Drug Act pertain to the unlawful sale, dispensation, distribution, prescription or other transfer of a controlled substance by a medical practitioner.
Section 30 of the Drug Act relates to individuals involved in the unlawful manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance or the unlawful creating, delivering or possessing with intent to deliver a counterfeit controlled substance. The 40 year maximum sentence provision of the law does not apply to cases involving individuals convicted of 3rd degree murder of a victim under the age of 13 when the conduct involves a drug delivery resulting in death.
- 1st degree felony
- Up to 40 years incarceration in a state prison
- Possible government forfeiture of real and personal property
- Restitution (e.g., victim’s funeral expenses)
Elements of the Drug Delivery Resulting in Death Charge
To achieve a conviction, state and local prosecutors are not required to prove that the drug supplier acted with “malice” or the intent to kill when supplying the drug to the victim. Prosecutors must prove only that the sale, transfer, delivery, prescription or dispensation of the drug resulted in the user’s death.
The most common situation involves the sale or delivery of a controlled substance by an individual to a drug user who consumes the drug and subsequently dies from a drug overdose directly related to drug purchase or delivery. More than one person can be charged with drug delivery resulting in death if the drugs were transferred among multiple individuals before the drugs came into the victim’s possession.
The Police Investigation
State and local police officers investigating a suspected criminal drug-related overdose will process the death scene to collect evidence of any drugs suspected to have caused the fatality. The evidence collected will often reveal the source of the drugs that caused the fatal overdose. Such evidence may include drug packaging with distinctive symbols or branding that may be traced back to a specific individual or supplier.
Determining Cause of Death
The police will also interview the victim’s friends and acquaintances to identify any individuals who came into contact with the victim immediately before his or her death. The police will also conduct a forensic examination of the cell phone and other electronic devices of the victim to determine the identity of anyone the victim was communicating with prior to his or her death. In certain cases, the local medical examiner will produce a report indicating that the drug supplied by the accused caused the victim’s death.
Drug Delivery Resulting in Death Defense
I will thoroughly examine the facts and circumstances of the case to evaluate all possible defenses to the charges. I maintain a professional network of highly skilled investigators and forensic experts in many fields. The defense of a drug delivery resulting in death case often requires the use of a defense investigator, forensic pathologist and police practices expert. Depending on the evidence in the case, additional forensic experts may be needed for the defense.
The use of an experienced defense investigator is critical in cases involving the charge of drug delivery resulting in death. A skillful defense investigator can interview witnesses favorable to the defense and secure other valuable evidence, such as phone records, surveillance video and medical records establishing the innocence of the accused. In many cases, the defense investigator will be able to establish that the drugs ingested by the victim came from a source other than the accused.
Challenging the Toxicology Report
A victim of a suspected drug-related overdose often has many different drugs in his or her system at the time of death. Additionally, a victim of a suspected drug-related overdose death may have also had medical conditions that directly caused or contributed to his or her death. It is often necessary to retain an independent forensic pathologist to review the opinions and conclusions of the government’s pathologist.
An independent forensic pathologist will review both the circumstances surrounding the victim’s death and the conclusions that the state’s medical examiner reached regarding the victim’s manner and cause of death. The defense pathologist will also analyze the victim’s medical records, including the toxicology report produced after the victim’s death. In many cases, the defense pathologist can establish that the drugs supplied by the accused did not cause the victim’s death.
Improper Evidence Collection by the Police
Proper death scene evidence collection and preservation is an extremely important part of a drug delivery resulting in death investigation. Drug overdose victims are frequently found by family, friends or fellow drug abusers. Friends and family members of the drug overdose victim will often move items or otherwise contaminate evidence at the death scene before the police arrive. In some cases, it may be necessary to retain a police practices expert to review the police reports and to verify if the police followed the proper guidelines in processing the death scene.
Reviewing the Police Investigation
An independent police practices expert can review the records of the police investigation and determine whether the evidence at the death scene was contaminated before the arrival of the police. A police practices expert can also analyze whether the police properly collected and preserved evidence and followed the appropriate investigative leads in the case. Demonstrating that the police conducted a sloppy and incompetent investigation will often persuade a judge or jury that the accused is not guilty of the crime of drug delivery resulting in death.
Aggressive and Dedicated Representation
It is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as you are under investigation or have been formally charged with drug delivery resulting in death. There are often many ways to successfully resolve the case without proceeding to trial. I can review the evidence in your case to develop the most effective strategy to preserve your rights and protect your freedom.
Start with a Strong Defense
If you have been charged with drug delivery resulting in death in Bucks County, Montgomery County or the surrounding counties, it is critical that you act quickly to protect your rights and build the strongest possible defense against the charges. Phone lines are open twenty-four hours a day at (215) 752-5282. Contact me for a free initial consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response.