There’s no question that overdose deaths from opioids, fentanyl and other illegal and dangerous drugs are at epidemic levels in this country. In an effort to prevent at least some of them, most states, including New Jersey, have enacted “Good Samaritan” or immunity laws to protect people who get help for someone who appears to be overdosing from facing criminal charges for their own possession and use of drugs.
Each state’s law differs somewhat in the details. Let’s take a brief look at New Jersey’s law.
When is New Jersey’s Overdose Prevention Act applicable?
New Jersey’s law applies to those who make a “good faith request” for help for what they reasonably believe is an overdose. The immunity applies to the person who seeks help and extends to the person who appears to be overdosing. It also applies if someone seeks help for themselves.
The immunity is for drug-related offenses like:
- Being under the influence of illegal drugs
- Possession of illegal drugs
- Obtaining or trying to obtain illegal drugs
- Possessing and using drug paraphernalia
Immunity also extends to violations of conditions of parole or probation.
The law only applies when the evidence of a drug-related offense is discovered solely because someone sought help for a suspected overdose. If police were already at the scene and a person they’re investigating or arresting points out that someone appears to be overdosing, that’s not applicable.
Further, if police see evidence of another type of criminal offense after being called to an overdose scene, the law doesn’t provide immunity for charges related to that offense. That doesn’t mean a person’s efforts to get help may not be used as a potential mitigating factor when it comes to charging and prosecuting them.
Overdose scenes can be confusing and chaotic for everyone involved. Police may not know the full extent of each person’s actions or connection to any illegal activity when they’re determining whether arrests need to be made. If you believe you’ve been wrongly arrested and charged, it’s wise to get legal guidance right away.