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Understanding New York’s 911 Good Samaritan Law

On Behalf of | Jul 5, 2024 | Drug Crimes

New York was among the first states to enact a “Good Samaritan” overdose immunity law. These laws, which have been enacted throughout the country, provide some immunity from criminal charges if evidence of drug possession or use is discovered only because a person sought emergency medical help for an overdose victim.

These laws are aimed at lessening the number of fatal drug overdoses, which is still at crisis levels. Since many fatalities can be prevented by timely medical assistance, lawmakers and public health officials hope that if people don’t have to worry that they’ll end up facing drug charges if they call for help, they’ll do so rather than leave the scene.

Each state’s law is different. Let’s take a look at the New York State 911 Good Samaritan Law.

When does immunity apply?

The law protects anyone who in good faith seeks emergency medical treatment for someone they reasonably believe to be suffering an overdose (from drugs or alcohol) or other medical emergency. It also protects the victim, whether someone else calls for them or they call for themselves.

The criminal offenses for which immunity is provided include possession of less than 8 ounces of a controlled substance, any amount of marijuana, drug paraphernalia and offenses related to alcohol possession by minors. 

When doesn’t the law provide immunity?

The law doesn’t provide immunity for more serious drug-related offenses, like sale or distribution. It also doesn’t apply to offenses not related to drugs or alcohol if evidence of them is discovered at the scene. However, a person’s good faith efforts to seek help for someone can always be presented as a factor for consideration in charging and/or sentencing for these offenses.

Arrest is still possible

Note that the law provides immunity from being charged or prosecuted for the specified offenses. It doesn’t say anything about arrest. Some people have argued that even an arrest can result in a night in jail and other negative consequences. 

However, police can’t always have all the facts at their disposal when they walk into an overdose scene.  They can arrest anyone if they have probable cause to believe they’ve committed a crime. If you or a loved one has been arrested after seeking emergency help or having that help sought for them, it’s crucial to get legal guidance as soon as possible.