Topic:
ALCOHOL/DRUG ABUSE; CRIMINAL LAW; EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES; GOOD SAMARITAN LAWS; LIABILITY (LAW);
Location:
DRUGS- LAW AND LEGISLATION; EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICE; LIABILITY, LEGAL;

OLR Research Report


July 30, 2008

 

2008-R-0425

911 GOOD SAMARITAN LEGISLATION

By: George Coppolo, Chief Attorney

You asked (1) if Connecticut or other states have a “911 Good Samaritan Law” and (2) if so, how have such laws worked?

A “911 Good Samaritan Law” provides immunity from criminal prosecution for possession of illegal drugs for a person who seeks emergency medical assistance for himself or herself, or for someone else who is experiencing a drug overdose. The immunity is limited to prosecutions that are based on evidence obtained because of the call for medical assistance.

The only state that has enacted such a law is New Mexico (NMSA 30-31-27.1). Under this law, a person may not be charged or prosecuted for possession of illegal drugs if he or she:

1. in good faith, seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug-related overdose if the evidence for the charge of possession was gained as a result of the seeking of medical assistance or

2. experiences a drug-related overdose and is in need of medical assistance if the evidence for the charge of possession was gained as a result of the overdose and the need for medical assistance.

New Mexico law also provides that the act of seeking medical assistance for someone who is experiencing a drug-related overdose may be used as a mitigating factor in a criminal prosecution.

Because the New Mexico law became effective around a year ago (June 15, 2007) there is no data to show how effective it has been.

Bills have been introduced in Maryland New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Washington but thus far none have been enacted (We have enclosed copies.)

However numerous colleges and universities have policies similar to the New Mexico law although many of these policies include alcohol as well as drugs.

The organization that appears to be advocating for the adoption of this type of legislation and university policies is Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). Their web site is:

http://www.drugpolicy.org/about/stateoffices/newmexico/911/.

Since SSDP launched its campaign in 2005, over 90 colleges and universities, including the University of Connecticut, have adopted policies similar to the New Mexico law regarding discipline for students who call for medical help for themselves or someone else. Many of these policies include alcohol as well as drugs. We have enclosed a copy of the University of Connecticut policy, which can be accessed at this link:

http://www.dos.uconn.edu/policy_good_samaritan.html.

New Mexico does not make available public hearing testimony or floor debates on its legislation. Thus, we were unable to look at the arguments for and against the legislation raised in New Mexico. But based on our examination of internet material it appears the main reason given for such a policy or law appears to be that it will help prevent deaths by drug or alcohol overdoses. Supporters reason that some people will be afraid to call for medical assistance because of a fear of criminal prosecution, or in the case of university policies, suspension, expulsion, or some other sanction. They claim that such laws or policies enable people to make responsible decisions by shielding them from punishment when they call for medical help during an emergency relating to drugs or alcohol. Proponents argue that since the threat of punishment can often cause hesitation during confusing and stressful situations, the existence of such a law or policy is essential to ensuring that people are able to stay alive and receive help when they are in trouble.

The main argument against such a law appears to be that it may permit some offenders to try to avoid prosecution by manipulating the system, although the law is drafted to attempt to avoid this. Another argument against such legislation and policies is that avoiding prosecution or at least the threat of prosecution might result in the person not getting the structure, treatment, counseling, and other help he or she may need to stop engaging in dangerous and illegal behavior.

Some university policies attempt to deal with this issue by allowing university officials to do follow up contacts with the person who avoided punishment to make sure he or she has the information and assistance to avoid this behavior in the future. The University of Connecticut has such a provision in its policy.

We have enclosed information from the SSDP website relating to their activities and their reasons for adopting the policy.

GC:dw