Most states now have “Good Samaritan” drug overdose legislation that gives some legal protection to bystanders who call for medical assistance for people who are overdosing. In the past, people who called for help often found themselves facing criminal charges like drug-related crimes or even homicide. In response to these events, some bystanders were afraid to call first responders.
Many drug overdose deaths are preventable with prompt medical treatment. When people have some legal safeguards, he or she is more likely to seek emergency care that can save a life.
A study by Temple University and others provides a state-by-state overview of Good Samaritan drug overdose legislation across the United States. As of July 1, 2018, all but five states had drug overdose Good Samaritan laws. Kansas, Maine, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming did not have these legal protections.
Types of Legal Protection
Every state gets to write its own laws, so the terms of the Good Samaritan drug overdose legislation varies from one state to the next. In some states, a bystander who calls for help for someone who is overdosing has immunity from prosecution for some drug-related offenses.
In other states, the person who contacts first responders to save an overdosing person’s life might still face the possibility of criminal charges for illegal drug activity, but the reporting of the emergency can be a mitigating factor at sentencing if the Good Samaritan gets convicted of a crime. Some Good Samaritan laws impose liability on a bystander who does not call for medical help when he or she sees someone overdosing.
How the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Laws Affect Controlled Substance Possession Laws
The 45 individual state laws can provide any of these legal protections as single protection or in any combination of two or more safeguards:
- Protection from arrest
- Immunity from getting charged with a drug-related offense
- Protection from prosecution for a drug-related crime
- Reporting the overdose can be an affirmative defense in a drug-related criminal trial
- Other procedural protections
Within these five categories of relief, the details can vary from one state to another. For example, in some states, any information obtained when the person seeks medical assistance cannot serve as probable cause or get admitted as evidence against the overdose patient or the person who reports the overdose.
Drug Paraphernalia Laws and Good Samaritan Overdose Legislation
Good Samaritan drug overdose laws tend to provide less protection from drug paraphernalia laws than from possession regulations. Only 30 states give any safeguards from drug paraphernalia laws to people who seek medical attention for overdoses.
How Good Samaritan Laws Affect Probation or Parole Violation Regulations
Only 23 states protect people from probation or parole violation consequences for seeking medical attention for someone who is overdosing. People who are on probation or parole often have as a condition of their release that he or she cannot use street drugs or get convicted of any crime during the term of their release. If he or she violates this condition, a judge can send them to jail or prison, depending on several factors.
Fewer than half of the states give parolees or people on probation immunity from adverse legal outcomes if he or she tries to get medical help for someone who is overdosing. Those states offer one of two possible forms of relief:
- The reporting person cannot have his probation or parole revoked
- The state offers more general protection from sanctions for violating the terms of probation or parole
The general protections will depend on the legislation in the state where the overdose and reporting occurred.
When Calling for Help for an Overdosing Person Can Be a Mitigating Factor in Sentencing
In 23 states, the accused can raise at the sentencing phase the fact that his arrest and conviction came about as the result of reporting an overdose. He can use this fact as a mitigating factor, in hopes that the judge will impose a lighter sentence.
To put in perspective the small number of states that allow the Good Samaritan behavior as a mitigating factor, most states protect the reporting person from arrest, charges, or prosecution, so help at sentencing might not be an issue in quite a few of those states.
Most of the states that allow mitigation permit the issue only in criminal cases involving controlled substances offenses (CSO) or CSO and alcohol-related offenses. Only 10 states extend the protection to offenses beyond alcohol and controlled substances.
At Pintas & Mullins, we understand how devastating an overdose can be on the individual patient and that person’s friends and family. If you or a loved one experienced an overdose, you might be eligible to pursue a claim for compensation.
We do not charge to talk to you and evaluate whether you might have a case. Our fees come out of the settlement proceeds or award at the end of the matter. Call us today at (888) 808-5977 to get started. The initial consultation is free, and there is no obligation.