Pennsylvania May Expand Good Samaritan Law to Drug Overdose Cases

When someone references a “Good Samaritan” law, I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode that put the group behind bars because they failed to help a person that was in trouble. The law in the show required a person to render aid, and the failure to help was a crime. In reality, Good Samaritan laws actually insulate a person from criminal liability if the person tries to help another person that needs medical attention.

Immunity from Prosecution in Drug Overdose Cases

On September 30th of 2014, the Pennsylvania governor signed a Good Samaritan law that would apply in drug overdose cases. When a person overdoses, it is highly probable that the people nearby have also used and possessed drugs, and the onlookers are afraid to call for help because they do not want to face criminal charges. The new law provides for immunity from criminal prosecution in such cases. If someone is suffering from a drug overdose, a Good Samaritan can call for medical assistance without fear of being criminally charged.

It must be emphasized that the immunity extends to general possession of drugs but has limitations. The police are able to file charges if the police can gather evidence of the crime that is independent of any evidence found as a result of the request for assistance. More importantly, the immunity does not extend to felony drug delivery or distribution charges. This means that a Good Samaritan that had sold the drugs to the overdose victim can still be charged with a charge of delivery of drugs under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(30).

Requirements for Immunity Protections

Under the recently passed Good Samaritan law, the caller will not face new criminal charges or a violation of a prior sentence for drug-related charges IF the caller made the report to the 911 system, a law enforcement officer, a  campus security person, or a medical services technician with a good faith belief that a person was facing death or serious bodily injury because of a drug overdose. The caller must also provide his name and location, remain at the scene until law enforcement or medical personnel arrive at the scene, and cooperate with those persons. If the caller does not follow the requirements, then the person is not able to later seek the protections of this law. For example, if the caller refuses to provide a name or provides false identification information, then the person may be prosecuted.

The new law also appears to protect the person suffering a drug overdose from criminal prosecution for drug possession charges as long as the caller for help followed the Good Samaritan requirements. Clearly, the goal of this law is to encourage people to seek medical attention and save the lives of people that are suffering from drug overdoses without fear that either the caller or the person needing medical assistance will face criminal charges. The Good Samaritan law covering drug offenses is different from the law providing immunity in Underage Drinking cases in that the new law protects both the caller and the person needing medical assistance. In the Underage Drinking context, the person needing medical assistance can be charged with Underage Drinking and other offenses.