A Track Record Of Successful Results
Photo of Joshua Nielsen
Photo of Joshua Nielsen
Photo of Joshua Nielsen

When getting help for an overdose can protect you from arrest

On Behalf of | May 9, 2024 | criminal defense

Witnessing someone appear to suffer a drug overdose can be extremely frightening. While most people’s first instinct would be to call 911, those who have been using drugs with the overdose victim are often paralyzed with panic or simply leave the scene without getting help because they fear their call will be traced to them and they’ll be arrested. 

Even if they aren’t worried for themselves, they don’t want to get the other person arrested. Sometimes, people won’t call for help for themselves if they believe they’re overdosing. They’re afraid that after they’re treated, they’ll be arrested and taken to jail.

In an effort to curb the rate of fatal drug overdoses, states across the country, including North Carolina, have enacted “Good Samaritan” or “limited immunity” laws. These protect those who qualify from being arrested, charged and prosecuted for possessing and using drugs if they’re discovered by law enforcement only because they called for help (for someone else or for themselves).

A few details from the North Carolina law

Each state’s law is somewhat different. North Carolina’s law states that someone who “in good faith” gets emergency help for a person they reasonably believe is suffering an overdose is immune from being arrested or charged for misdemeanor drug offenses as well as felony offenses involving a small amount of drugs or paraphernalia if they’re discovered when law enforcement officers arrive. The law also provides immunity if the drug possession and/or use discovered is a violation of their conditions of “pretrial release, probation, parole, or post-release.”

To receive immunity, a person needs to have a “reasonable belief” that they are the first one to call for help. They must also provide authorities with their real name. The overdose victim receives the same immunity. The immunity doesn’t apply if someone notifies police of an overdose “during the course of the execution of an arrest warrant, search warrant, or other lawful search.”

Because overdose scenes can be chaotic, and officers may not know precisely what the situation is, they’re protected from civil liability if they wrongfully arrest and charge someone. However, if you believe you were wrongfully arrested based on the law, it’s critical to get legal guidance to protect your rights.