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State v. Ferguson

Supreme Court of New Jersey

May 20, 2019

State of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Noel E. Ferguson and Anthony M. Potts, Defendants-Respondents. State of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Shameik Byrd, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued February 26, 2019

          On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 455 N.J.Super. 56 (App. Div. 2018).

          Sarah C. Hunt, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for the State of New Jersey (Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General, attorney; Sarah C. Hunt, of counsel and on the briefs).

          Margaret McLane, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for Shameik Byrd (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Margaret McLane and Kathryn A. Panaccione, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, of counsel and on the briefs).

          Michael J. Montanari argued the cause for Anthony M. Potts (Del Sardo & Montanari, attorneys; Michael J. Montanari, of counsel and on the briefs, and Jayna B. Patel, on the briefs).

          Brian J. Neary argued the cause for Noel E. Ferguson (Law Offices of Brian J. Neary, attorneys; Brian J. Neary, of counsel, and Jane M. Personette, on the briefs).

          Alexander Shalom argued the cause for amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Foundation and Rutgers Constitutional Rights Clinic Center for Law and Justice, attorneys; Alexander Shalom, Jeanne LoCicero, and Tess Borden, of counsel and on the brief, and Ronald K. Chen, on the brief).

          ALBIN, J., writing for the Court.

         In a criminal prosecution, the State must have territorial jurisdiction to enforce its laws against a defendant. Defendant Shameik Byrd sold heroin to defendants Noel Ferguson and Anthony Potts in Paterson, New Jersey. Afterwards, Ferguson and Potts returned to their home state of New York where they sold the heroin they purchased to Kean Cabral. Cabral died of an overdose after taking the heroin originally sold by Byrd. New Jersey criminalizes as a strict-liability offense illicitly distributing drugs that cause death to the user. New York does not. The issue is whether New Jersey has territorial jurisdiction to prosecute the three defendants under its strict-liability statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9, for Cabral's drug-induced death in New York.

         The three defendants were charged with multiple violations of New Jersey's drug laws and with the first-degree crime of distributing heroin that caused the death of Cabral in violation of the strict-liability drug-induced death statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9. Each defendant moved separately to dismiss the strict-liability drug-induced death charge on the ground that the State lacked territorial jurisdiction to prosecute the offense.

         The trial court dismissed the drug-induced death charges filed against Ferguson and Potts, reasoning that the State lacked territorial jurisdiction because neither the conduct (the distribution of heroin) nor the result (the death of the victim) -- the necessary elements for a conviction under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9 and for territorial jurisdiction under N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1) -- occurred in New Jersey. In contrast, the court found that the State had territorial jurisdiction to prosecute Byrd for Cabral's drug-induced death because the necessary conduct for a prosecution under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9 and for territorial jurisdiction -- the distribution of heroin -- occurred in New Jersey.

         An Appellate Division panel affirmed the dismissal of the drug-induced death charge against Ferguson and Potts and sustained the charge against Byrd for reasons similar to those articulated by the trial court. 455 N.J.Super. 56, 66-69 (App. Div. 2018).

         The Court granted both the State's and Byrd's motions for leave to appeal. 235 N.J. 205 (2018).

         HELD: New Jersey does not have territorial jurisdiction to prosecute Ferguson, Potts, or Byrd for the drug-induced death of Cabral in New York.

         1. A first principle of any criminal prosecution is that a State must have territorial jurisdiction to enforce the authority of its laws. N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3 sets forth six pathways to territorial jurisdiction, only one of which is relevant to this case. Subsection (a)(1) of N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3 generally provides that a person can be convicted of an offense under New Jersey law if "[e]ither the conduct which is an element of the offense or the result which is such an element occurs within this State." Accordingly, if a defendant's conduct or the result of his conduct are elements of the crime charged and if either the conduct or result occurred in New Jersey, the crime is prosecutable in this State, unless one of the exceptions to territorial jurisdiction delineated in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3 applies. (pp. 14-16)

         2. Ferguson, Potts, and Byrd were charged with violating N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9, the drug-induced death statute. The elements required to prove a violation of the strict-liability drug-induced death statute are (1) the defendant distributed a controlled dangerous substance; (2) the defendant did so knowingly or purposely; (3) the victim used the substance distributed by the defendant; and (4) the victim died as a result of the use of the substance distributed by the defendant, and the death was not too remote in its occurrence or too dependent upon the conduct of another person. Under the drug-induced death statute, the distribution of drugs is a conduct element and the victim's death is a result element for purposes of territorial jurisdiction. Based solely on N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1), when the distribution occurs in New Jersey and the drug-induced death in another state, the requisites for territorial jurisdiction have been satisfied. (pp. 16-18)

         3. But the Code has exceptions to the general territorial jurisdiction provision of N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1). N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(b), see infra ¶ 6, acts as a restraint on the reach of New Jersey's territorial jurisdiction when one of its criminal laws is not aligned with the public policy of another state, where the result of the conduct is not criminal. Nevertheless, N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(b) permits New Jersey to prosecute conduct occurring in this State that causes a result in another state, provided "a legislative purpose plainly appears to declare the conduct criminal regardless of the place of the result." (pp. 18-20)

         4. The Court first addresses whether the State can exert territorial jurisdiction over Ferguson and Potts for causing the drug-induced death of Cabral. Because Cabral's death occurred in New York (the result element), the issue for jurisdictional purposes under N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1) is whether Ferguson and Potts distributed the heroin in New Jersey (the conduct element). "'Distribute' means to deliver . . . a controlled dangerous substance," and "'delivery' means the actual, constructive, or attempted transfer from one person to another of a controlled dangerous substance." N.J.S.A. 2C:35-2. The distribution of drugs focuses on the final transfer to a particular individual. Ferguson and Potts made no "attempted transfer" or "delivery" of drugs to Cabral in New Jersey. After they purchased the drugs in Paterson, Ferguson and Potts returned to New York, where they sold drugs and delivered heroin to Cabral, acts that constituted distribution. The State cannot establish an act of distribution by Ferguson and Potts in New Jersey that would allow the exercise of territorial jurisdiction on the drug-induced death charge. Accordingly, the Appellate Division properly affirmed the trial court's dismissal of that charge against Ferguson and Potts. (pp. 20-24)

         5. In the case of Byrd, the Court reaches a different result on the issue of "distribution." At the grand jury hearing, the State presented evidence that Byrd distributed to Ferguson and Potts in New Jersey the heroin they later sold to Cabral -- the heroin Cabral ingested causing his death. N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9 does not require that a defendant distribute drugs directly to the victim to be found guilty of violating the statute. The State has satisfied the conduct-element requirement for territorial jurisdiction, thus rendering Byrd generally subject to this State's territorial jurisdiction under N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1). (pp. 24-25)

         6. The only remaining question is whether Byrd's case falls within the exception to territorial jurisdiction delineated in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(b), which provides that subsection (a)(1) will not apply when "causing a specified result . . . is an element of an offense and the result occurs . . . in another jurisdiction where the conduct charged would not constitute an offense, unless a legislative purpose plainly appears to declare the conduct criminal regardless of the place of the result." In N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1), the term "conduct which is an element of the offense" refers to but one element of a completed crime. In contrast, the term "conduct charged" suggests a completed crime -- all the elements necessary to constitute an offense. Here, "conduct charged" means the strict-liability offense of a drug-induced death, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9. That offense is not punishable as a crime in New York. Therefore, New Jersey does not have territorial jurisdiction "unless a legislative purpose plainly appears to declare" that a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9 is prosecutable in this State, regardless of the place where the drug-induced death occurred. See N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(b). (pp. 25-28)

         7. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(b), courts cannot impute or infer a legislative purpose. A legislative purpose to extend the statute beyond New Jersey's borders must "plainly" appear. Upon review of the legislative declarations codified as part of the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1987, see N.J.S.A. 2C:35-1.1, the Court cannot discern a plain legislative purpose calling for Byrd's prosecution for the strict-liability drug-induced death of Cabral, when New York, where the death occurred, would not prosecute such an offense. (pp. 28-30)

         The judgment of the Appellate Division is affirmed as to Ferguson and Potts and reversed as to Byrd. The matter is remanded to the trial court.

          CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, PATTERSON, FERNANDEZ-VINA, SOLOMON, and TIMPONE join in JUSTICE ALBIN's opinion.

          ALBIN, JUSTICE

         In a criminal prosecution, the State must have territorial jurisdiction to enforce its laws against a defendant. State v. Denofa, 187 N.J. 24, 36 (2006). Generally, the State can exercise territorial jurisdiction when either the defendant's conduct or the result of that conduct occurs in New Jersey and is an element of a criminal offense. N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1). That general rule governing territorial jurisdiction, however, has limits. Absent a clear legislative purpose indicating otherwise, a defendant cannot be prosecuted for "conduct charged" in New Jersey when that defendant's acts within our borders cause a result in another state where, under that state's law, the "conduct charged" does not constitute a crime. N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(b).

         Based on the facts before us, defendant Shameik Byrd sold heroin to defendants Noel Ferguson and Anthony Potts in Paterson, New Jersey. Afterwards, Ferguson and Potts returned to their home state of New York where they sold the heroin they purchased to Kean Cabral in the Town of Warwick. Cabral died of an overdose in his home after taking the heroin originally sold by Byrd.

         As a result of allegedly causing Cabral's death, Ferguson, Potts, and Byrd were charged with violating New Jersey's strict-liability drug-induced death statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9. The three defendants facing that charge in New Jersey cannot be prosecuted in New York for the strict-liability drug-induced death of Cabral because New York has no comparable criminal law. The issue is whether New Jersey has territorial jurisdiction to prosecute the three defendants under its strict-liability statute for Cabral's drug-induced death, which occurred in New York where the conduct charged is not criminal.

         The trial court concluded that the State did not have territorial jurisdiction to prosecute Ferguson and Potts under the drug-induced death statute because their conduct -- the distribution of drugs -- and the result -- Cabral's death -- both occurred in New York. In contrast, the court found that Byrd was subject to this State's territorial jurisdiction because he distributed in New Jersey the drugs that eventually caused Cabral's death in New York and because no statutory exception to territorial jurisdiction bars his prosecution. The Appellate Division affirmed.

         We now hold that New Jersey's Code of Criminal Justice restricts the State's exercise of territorial jurisdiction over Ferguson, Potts, and Byrd for a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(a)(1), the State cannot exercise territorial jurisdiction over Ferguson and Potts on the strict-liability drug-induced death charge because their distribution of heroin to Cabral and Cabral's death -- both essential elements of the offense -- did not occur in New Jersey.

         Nor is territorial jurisdiction present in Byrd's case on the drug-induced death charge. Although Byrd distributed heroin in New Jersey -- one element of the drug-induced death offense -- N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(b)'s exception to territorial jurisdiction applies. That is so because the conduct charged in New Jersey is not a crime in New York where the death occurred. Significantly, (1) Cabral purchased the heroin from Ferguson and Potts in New York and consumed the drugs there; (2) Cabral's drug overdose and death occurred in New York, which does not criminalize a drug-induced death as a strict-liability offense; and (3) a "legislative purpose" does not plainly appear authorizing the prosecution in New Jersey of a strict-liability drug-induced death, regardless of the state where the death occurs. See N.J.S.A. 2C:1-3(b).

         Accordingly, the strict-liability drug-induced death charge brought against defendants must be dismissed. We affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the Appellate Division and remand to the trial court for the prosecution of Ferguson, Potts, and Byrd on the remaining drug counts in the indictment.

         I

         A

         The relevant facts are discerned from the grand jury testimony of Detective Travis Johnson of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, the sole witness at those proceedings. We recount only the facts ...


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