Maryland’s Criminal Procedure statutes provides for immunity from arrest or criminal sanction when a call is made for medical assistance because of a suspected drug overdose.
Whether that immunity extends to a person who has overdosed when someone else calls 911 was explored in a reported opinion last week from Maryland’s intermediate appellate Court in a case called Christopher Noble v. State of Maryland.
The opinion indicates that paramedics responded to a 911 call from the Defendant’s girlfriend for “an unresponsive person thought to be in cardiac arrest.” They found the Defendant lying on the floor of the bathroom unconscious with shallow breathing, concluded that he was suffering from an opiate overdose and administered medication that roused him to consciousness. The Defendant later told police that he had taken several Percocet.
Noble had previously pleaded guilty to possession and conspiracy to possess narcotics with intent to distribute, had received a suspended jail sentence and was placed on probation.
One of the conditions of probation was that he not possess or use any illegal substance or engage in abusive use of an prescription drug.
Based on the 911 call, Defendant’s probation agent filed for violation of his probation. Defense counsel asserted that Noble could not be violated, because evidence arose from the call about his overdose, but the trial judge disagreed, found him in violation and imposed jail time arising from the original conviction.
The appellate Court discussed this history of this immunity provision, noting that in its original form it was designed to encourage people to call for help when they suspected an overdose in response to the opioid epidemic.
The State relied on the part of the statute that says that “a person who seeks, provides or assists with the provision of medical assistance” to a person who is overdosing may not be sanctioned, so that the law would only protect some like a girlfriend who called for assistance.
However, the Court held that the law also means a person who reasonably believes that the person is experiencing a medical emergency from drugs is immune from sanction if the evidence was obtained from that person receiving assistance.
In reversing the finding of a probation violation, the Court held “to hold that a person is not entitled to the protection of the statute because someone else called for medical assistance after the person overdoses is inconsistent with the General Assembly’s state goal of saving lives by encouraging people to call for help.”
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.