A New York couple who sold a 25-year-old overdose victim the heroin from Paterson that killed him can't be prosecuted for causing a drug-induced death in New Jersey, a state appeals court ruled.
Because Kean Cabral received and used the drug in Warwick in Orange County, authorities in New Jersey don't have jurisdiction to prosecute Anthony Potts and Noel Ferguson, who bought it from a dealer in Paterson, the Appellate Division judges found.
"The state has not met its burden of establishing that an 'inference could reasonably be drawn placing the site of the crime within th[is] state'," the appeals panel wrote.
"The state has the power to prosecute crimes that occurred within its borders, but may not bring charges for offenses which occurred entirely in another state or country," the judges added.
The panel also upheld a ruling by a judge in Paterson, however, that prosecutors could charge ex-con dealer Shameik "Homeboy" Byrd with strict liability for Cabral's death.
Representatives of the attorney general's office in both states worked together to bring the charges after Cabral's mother found her son's body in their home on April 3, 2016.
She called Warwick police, who reported finding a hypodermic needle, eight full bags of heroin stamped "Trap Queen" -- and nine empty ones -- which authorities traced to Paterson.
Potts and Ferguson were arrested three days later, after investigators said they caught them buying heroin from Byrd on 34th Street and 20th Avenue in Paterson.
Byrd, who'd spent more than four years in state prison on drug distribution, robbery and other convictions before being released in October 2014, was picked up two months later. He remained held Monday on a parole violation.
Under New Jersey's Strict Liability Drug Induced Death law, someone who sells illegal drugs that kills the user can be charged with his or her death. New York State doesn't have a similar statute.
Because heroin trafficking doesn't stop at their borders, authorities in New Jersey and New York said collaborations become necessary.
Defense attorney Michael Montanari, in turn, argued that the link between the heroin buy in Paterson and ultimate overdose in Warwick was too thin to "properly establish territorial jurisdiction in New Jersey."
"I fully appreciate the seriousness of the opioid epidemic in New Jersey and the desire by law enforcement to increase penalties for people who sell heroin," Montanari said, "but in this instance the attorney general's office picked the wrong case in which to bring a strict liability death charge."
Superior Court Judge Scott J Bennion, sitting in Paterson, agreed and dismissed the charges against Potts and Ferguson.
The Attorney General's Office appealed.
The appellate panel upheld Bennion's decision last Friday.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.