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PA SUPERIOR COURT: CONSPIRING TO DELIVER DRUGS ALSO LINKS THE CONSPIRATORS TO THE DRUG USER’S DEATH

The PA Superior Court recently decided the case of Commonwealth v. Carr, No. 1538 WDA 2018 (Pa. Super. 1/21/2020), holding that a conspiracy to commit the overt act of an intentional drug delivery links the conspirators to the foreseeable consequence that the drug user may die. 

Chester Carr appealed from the judgment of sentence entered following his convictions of various crimes related to a drug-overdose death. 

As part of his appeal, Carr argued that “the Commonwealth charged him with a crime that is not legally cognizable, i.e. criminal conspiracy to commit drug delivery resulting in death.” 

Specifically, Carr claimed that it is “logically impossible for a person to intentionally conspire to achieve an unintended reckless result.” 

In analyzing the predicate crime of drug delivery resulting in death, the Superior Court, in sum, concluded that “the applicable mens rea for the crime of drug delivery resulting in death is two-fold. First, the delivery, distribution or sale of the contraband must be intentional. Second, the actual death must be the reckless result of the actions of the defendant. As such, the crime is an intentional act in providing contraband, with a reckless disregard of death from the use of the contraband.” 

The appellate court explained that “the statute … is clear as to the level of causation. It requires a ‘but-for’ test of causation.” In other words, “but for” the intentional delivery of the drugs, the death of the user would not have occurred. 

“Additionally, criminal causation requires [that] the results of the defendant’s actions cannot be so extraordinarily remote or attenuated that it would be unfair to hold the defendant criminally responsible.” 

As to the separate crime of conspiring to commit the predicate offense of drug delivery resulting in death, the Superior Court noted as an example that “the absence of intent to kill does not preclude a defendant from being convicted of conspiracy to commit third degree murder.” 

The Court explained that “one does not conspire to commit a denominated offense; one conspires to engage in certain conduct” and “when conspiring to engage in certain conduct, conspirators need not contemplate the ultimate crime in order to be charged and convicted of conspiracy to commit that crime.”

Accordingly, the Court concluded that “a drug user’s death need not be the objective of the conspirators because the consequence of an overdose is a foreseeable result of the delivery, distribution, or sale of drugs* to the victim.” 

 A conspiracy to commit the overt act of an intentional drug delivery links the conspirators to the foreseeable consequence that the drug user may die.

As are the facts in many of these cases, “the conspiring parties need not specifically anticipate the death of the user of the drug. A conspiracy to commit the overt act of an intentional drug delivery links the conspirators to the foreseeable consequence that the drug user may die. Accordingly, the crime of conspiracy to commit drug delivery resulting in death is a cognizable crime.”

* NOTE – The drugs delivered in the instant case involved heroin laced with fentanyl. One might ask whether the type of drug delivered could have an outcome on any future case as it relates to the question of whether the consequence of death was reasonably foreseeable.

CASE LINK:

COMMONWEALTH V. CHESTER CARR, No. 1538 WDA 2018 (Pa. Super. 1/21/2020)

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