When can people reporting drug overdoses in N.C. qualify for immunity?

Under North Carolina law, people who report or treat life-threatening drug overdoses may qualify for immunity from certain related criminal charges.

In North Carolina, the consequences of a conviction for a drug-related offense can be steep. Unfortunately, fear of these sanctions may deter many people from seeking help for themselves or others in the face of a life-threatening overdose. Tragically, overdose deaths have become a growing problem in North Carolina. Per WBTV News, fatal overdoses have tripled statewide over the last decade, and they claim hundreds of lives on a yearly basis.

To address this ongoing issue, North Carolina law provides limited immunity from drug crime charges for people who render aid or seek medical attention in these situations. It is important for people in Raleigh and other parts of the state to understand when this immunity may be available.

Life-threatening situations

The state's "911 Good Samaritan" laws provide that immunity may only be offered in the event of a life-threatening overdose. Legally, this is defined as a severe condition - such as coma, hysteria or mania, physical illness or death - that a reasonable person would interpret as an overdose. The laws provide limited protection for overdose victims or bystanders who seek emergency medical assistance or administer an opioid antagonist to treat the overdose.

Qualifying criminal charges

The state's laws offer protection only in the event that authorities obtain evidence to support certain felony or misdemeanor charges as a result of the overdose or the call for medical assistance. These charges are as follows:

  • The felony offense of possession of less than one gram of heroin
  • The felony offense of possession of less than one gram of cocaine
  • The misdemeanor offense of possession of paraphernalia
  • Any other misdemeanor drug possession charges

Authorities may still press any of these charges, however, if they have secured other evidence of the offense in question.

Legal exceptions

The state's Good Samaritan laws also have other important restrictions that residents should be aware of. People who seek help for an overdose may be charged with offenses other than the ones listed above. Furthermore, these laws do not preclude authorities from collecting evidence that is relevant to other alleged criminal offenses at the scene of an overdose.

Potential for penalties

Unfortunately, even with these laws in place, people who witness, report or intervene in overdoses may still be left vulnerable to serious legal consequences. To better understand and protect their rights, people who face any type of drug-related charge in North Carolina may benefit from consulting with an attorney. An attorney may be able to help a person devise an appropriate defense based on the situation and any mitigating factors.

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