The New York police department’s intensive effort to determine the source of the drugs in an apparent accidental overdose is unusual. Courts have found in past rulings that under state law drug dealers can’t be held liable for a customer’s death.
Some quick research suggests that this is more or less correct. A 1972 decision immediately turns up – People v. Pinckney – an appellate division ruling later affirmed by the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. The court in Pinckney reviewed New York’s overall statutory scheme for dealing with drug offenses. Noting, first, that it was comprehensive and, second, that it didn’t include enhanced penalties for drug sales just because the use of the drug resulted in the death of the customer, the court concluded that New York’s Penal Law does “not make the act of selling a dangerous drug, which, when injected . . . , causes the death of the user, a homicide.”
But it’s a bit more complicated than that, as we’ll get into below.