Drug Dealers Fight Liability for Out-of-State Overdose

Cars approach the George Washington Bridge, which connects the Garden and Empire states. (Photo via U.S. Department of Justice)

TRENTON, N.J. (CN) — Lawyers for a pair of accused drug dealers urged the New Jersey Supreme Court to bar their prosecution for a New Yorker’s overdose, saying state law does not cover conduct across the river.

“As tragic as this is, the crime happened in New York,” said Brian Neary, who represents Noel Ferguson. 

Along with Anthony Potts, Ferguson was arrested in April 2016 for the death that month of Kean Cabral, who overdosed on heroin labeled Trap Queen at his home in Warwick, New York.

Potts and Ferguson admitted to officers that they had sold Cabral the heroin, and they gave up their own dealer as well: Shameik Byrd, a resident of Paterson, New Jersey, whom they knew as Home Boy.

Potts, Ferguson and Byrd all tried to get the charges against them dismissed, but the trial court in Passaic County found that the law favored only Potts and Ferguson because their dealings with Cabral occurred in New York.

Because Byrd allegedly sold the drugs that killed Cabral in New Jersey, however, the charges against him remain in place.

Deputy Attorney General Sarah Hunt urged the state Supreme Court on Tuesday to revive the tossed charges.

“Any person who distributes drugs [is] liable for the death those drugs [caused],” said Hunt. “Manufacturers all the way down to final link in the chain.” 

Justice Barry Albin noted that the crux of the issue is that New York does not have the same strict-liability statute as New Jersey for overdose crimes.

“New York will not convicted drug-induced death,” Albin said. “We can do it because it started here?” 

Agreeing with that summary, Hunt said distribution is the key: Ferguson and Potts traveled to New Jersey to buy the brick of heroin from Byrd, as they did multiple times a week, and ultimately distributed the drugs to Cabral. 

Byrd’s public defender Margaret McClain insisted meanwhile that her client should not be prosecuted for the overdose either. 

“Drugs were sold to a New Yorker in New York where he died in New York,” McClain said. 

Representing Potts, attorney Michael Montanari law firm shot back when Justices Jaynee LaVecchia and Anne Patterson posed hypothetical involving Connecticut, or an out-of-state college student who brought a fatal dose back to friends. 

“Where does it stop,” asked Montanari, whose firm is called Del Sardo and Montanar. “Where does New Jersey jurisdiction stop?”

Alexander Shalom, a senior supervising attorney with the ACLU-New Jersey, addressed the judges as well as a friend of the court. He said it would be fundamentally unfair to punish Byrd but not Potts and Ferguson. 

Rounding out the court at arguments were Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Justices Faustino Fernandez-Vina, Lee Solomon and Walter Timpone.

A strict-liability conviction could hold a sentence of up to 20 years. 

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