New penalties for new drugs in New Jersey

One New Jersey legislator wants manufacturers and dealers of certain wet drugs to be held responsible for the criminal acts of those to whom they sell, even if the charge is murder. Wet drugs are PCP mixtures with other drugs, which have allegedly prompted several recent and horrific homicides in New Jersey. While the sentiment behind the proposed legislation is honorable, the proposal misses the mark and will end up punishing the wrong people.

The crimes committed by those using PCP mixtures are the stuff of twisted nightmares. After smoking PCP-laced marijuana, 34-year-old Chevonne Thomas of Camden beheaded her two-year-old son, put his head in the freezer and then killed herself. Just weeks later, Oswaldo Rivera, high on PCP-laced marijuana, broke into his neighbor's Camden home and murdered the family's six-year-old son and severely wounded their 12-year-old daughter by slashing the children's throats.

Who Should Be Held Responsible for These Grisly Crimes?

Inspired by these headline-grabbing stories, Sen. Donald Norcross of Camden has introduced legislation to significantly increase the criminal penalties for those who make or sell wet drugs. Selling five grams or more of any PCP mixture would be a first-degree felony, which carries a potential prison term of 20 years.

In addition to increasing the penalties, the bill would expand the liability of manufacturers and dealers by making them responsible for whatever their buyers do while under the influence of their product. That would make whoever sold the wet to Thomas and Rivera liable for the murders of the children.

"Holding drug dealers responsible for the deaths caused by individuals on wet sends the message that the drugs are not the only problem," said New Jersey Assemblyman Gilbert Whip Wilson of Camden/Gloucester. "If you make your money distributing substances that cause harm to others, you are just as guilty as if you held the knife."

Sen. Norcross says, "We want the dealer to be scared." Fair enough, but who really suffers under this proposed scheme — low level street dealers trying to support their own habits or drug kingpins pushing mass quantities of dangerous drugs on struggling addicts? The reality is that this proposed legislation is a knee-jerk reaction to horrific events. Unfortunately, such reactions are seldom well thought through and end up triggering unintended consequences.

No one would disagree that someone who commits murder should pay the full price for his or her crime. However, expanding the scope of who can be charged and convicted of murder seems like it will only increase the cost on taxpayers to house the wrongful culprits at $50,000 a year.

If You're Accused of a Crime, You Deserve a Rigorous Defense

If you or someone you love is the subject of a criminal investigation, or have already been arrested on drug charges, an experienced criminal defense attorney will stand up for your rights and fight for justice.