Passaic County prosecutors plan to invoke a rarely used law to charge an alleged drug dealer with murder for selling heroin that killed a man.
The so-called “Strict Liability in Drug-Induced Deaths” statute law was passed in the late 1980s, during the heights of the crack epidemic. It equates the act of selling drugs with homicide.
Prosecutors will have to prove that 25-year-old Quasheem Reels of Paterson exercised extreme disregard for human life when he sold West Milford resident Brian Marx the drugs that killed him in April 2012.
Reels' attorney, Peter L. Festa, tells The Record that if the state can prove someone sold drugs and the buyer died because of using them, the seller is guilty of homicide - even if the victim was killed by a train after passing out on the tracks.
“What makes these cases dangerous, from a defendant's point of view, is that it's an opportunity for the state to convict you of homicide without having to prove any intent whatsoever. That's unique,” Festa said.
Reels is also facing two other drug charges and was out on bail at the time of his arrest on this case, according to attorneys. And while authorities say there is no evidence there was anything inordinately lethal or different about the heroin that might have made an overdose more likely, they note that doesn't need to be proven.
Reels is awaiting a trial date in state Superior Court. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.