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Drug Delivery Resulting in Death Is a Homicide in Pennsylvania

Man with cocaine powder

The recent sentencing of a Monroe County man to 20 years in prison shows the wide sweep of a Pennsylvania law making it a homicide to distribute an illegal drug that causes the death of a recipient user.

The Drug Delivery Resulting in Death (DDRD) law, enacted in 2008, provides that intentionally delivering, administering, prescribing or providing a controlled substance is a first-degree felony if a recipient later dies as a result of usage. In 2021, Matthew Luce delivered fentanyl to a New Jersey man who then died of an overdose. Luce was charged with drug trafficking under federal law and with homicide under the DDRD. He pleaded guilty to the DDRD charge and in early 2023 was sentenced to 20 years. This may seem like a long prison term, as Luce only delivered the fentanyl. However, the DDRD takes aim at each element involved in drug trafficking. Luce could have been sentenced to 40 years for his relatively minor role.

The DDRD also has potential ramifications for those not involved in the narcotics trade. The statute does not limit liability to those involved in drug distribution for profit. A friend who casually delivers a package including drugs could be guilty of a homicide if the user dies. Similarly, a drug user who shares his or her supply with a person who subsequently dies from taking the drugs may face decades in prison.

Prosecutors counter that the harsh DDRD penalties serve as a deterrent to people getting involved with drugs. Also, they assert that the threat of lengthy prison sentences is an incentive for lower-level suppliers to provide evidence against drug kingpins. It is unclear whether prosecutions since enactment of the DDRD have worked to further these enforcement priorities. However, anyone under investigation or facing charges for distribution of controlled substances should immediately consult a drug crimes lawyer.

The Law Offices of David Jay Glassman has been providing criminal defense for clients in the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area for decades. If you are under investigation or are facing federal or state drug charges, feel free to contact us online or call 215-563-7100 for a consultation.