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. Although the law was originally meant to target larger scale drug traffickers, state and local prosecutors are now applying the statute to lower-level drug users. As a consequence, most prosecutors now treat every case involving a fatal drug overdose as a potential homicide.
Increased Prosecutions in PA 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 successfully 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.
Bucks County Drug Delivery Resulting in Death Lawyer
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 consists of the following two elements:
- A person must intentionally administer, dispense, deliver, give, prescribe, sell or distribute 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. The drug delivery resulting in death law can be applied to a medical doctor but is most often applied to non-medical professionals suspected of supplying drugs resulting in an overdose death of an individual.
Penalties for Drug Delivery Resulting in Death
- 1st degree felony
- Up to 40 years incarceration in a state prison
- Up to $25,000 in fines
- Possible government forfeiture of real and personal property
- Restitution (e.g., victim’s funeral expenses)
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.
Burden of Proof in a Drug Delivery Resulting in Death Case
To achieve a conviction, state and local prosecutors are required to prove that the drug supplier acted intentionally in supplying the controlled substance to the victim. Secondly, the prosecutors must prove that the accused acted intentionally, knowingly or recklessly in casing the death of the victim. The Pennsylvania appellate courts have found that the sale of heroin by a supplier will satisfy the element of recklessness under the drug delivery resulting in death law.
Direct Sale of Drug From Supplier to Victim Not Required
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. Moreover, the statute does not require that the prosecutor prove that the accused sold or delivered the drug to the individual who eventually died. The statute only requires that another person dies as a result of ingesting the substance that was sold by the accused.
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.
Additionally, the police will often conduct a forensic analysis of the phones of the friends and acquaintances of the deceased to recover any communications related to a drug sale or delivery involving the deceased prior to his or her death. It is important to immediately contact a lawyer if you believe you are under investigation for the crime of drug delivery resulting in death.
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 local coroner or medical examiner will conduct a death investigation to determine the cause and manner of death of the victim. In certain cases, the local medical examiner or coroner 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 medical experts and other 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. It is particularly important to have an independent medical examiner review the state’s medical examiner’s conclusions when the report concludes that the drugs supplied by the accused caused the victim’s death.
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.
Proving Causation in a Drug Delivery Resulting in Death Case
In order to gain a conviction, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that “but for” the victim’s consumption of the drugs supplied by the accused, his or her death would not have occurred. The Pennsylvania appellate courts have clarified the “but for test” for causation by stating that the prosecutor prove that the victim’s ingestion of the controlled substance supplied by the accused must be a direct and substantial factor in producing the victim’s death. It is important to note that the ingestion of the controlled substance by the accused can be a direct and substantial factor in the victim’s death even when other drugs are found in the victim’s system at the time of death.
Challenging the State’s 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.
Using a Defense Medical Expert to Establish a Defense
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.
In certain cases it has been possible for a defense medical expert to established that the victim died as a direct result of a drug ingested that was not supplied by the accused. In other cases, it is often possible to establish that the victim had a serious underlying medical condition or conditions that directly caused his or her death.
Challenging 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. The pre-arrest investigation phase of the case is a critical stage where negotiations with the prosecutor may prevent the filing of charges in the case. 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.