DRUG OVERDOSE? IF YOU CALL FOR EMERGENCY MEDICAL CARE, YOU MAY BE IMMUNE FROM PROSECUTION IN CERTAIN CASES.
The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Sheila Marie Lewis, No. 257 MDA 2017 (March 2, 2018), holding that if a person has a reasonable belief emergency medical care is required due to a drug overdose, they are entitled to immunity from prosecution for certain crimes under PA’s Drug Overdose Response Immunity statute (the “Act”), even if they are self-reporting the emergency.
“Lewis called 911 from her hotel room reporting she had overdosed on prescription pills. A police officer responded to the scene to assist Lewis until an ambulance could arrive. While he was assisting Lewis in gathering the prescription pills, he observed paraphernalia often utilized to smoke marijuana. When questioned about the paraphernalia, Lewis admitted she had used the items to smoke marijuana.”
“The ambulance took Lewis to a local hospital. The Commonwealth subsequently charged her with possession of drug paraphernalia. Prior to her bench trial, Lewis moved to have the charge dismissed, claiming immunity to prosecution under the Act.”
The trial court denied her motion on two grounds, concluding that: (1) self-reported overdose victims are not entitled to immunity under the law and (2) Lewis did not need immediate medical attention and therefore was not entitled to immunity under the law. She was subsequently convicted of possessing drug paraphernalia and given three months probation. She filed a timely appeal, arguing that the trial court erred in concluding she is not statutorily immune from prosecution under the Act.
Essentially, the Superior Court concluded that the Act simply required that for a caller to be immune from prosecution for certain offenses (including possession of drug paraphernalia), they must have a reasonable belief that the victim was in need of emergency medical services for a drug overdose. Here, Lewis called 911 to report her own drug overdose and, under the circumstances, the Superior Court concluded that her belief for doing so was not unreasonable.
As to the applicability of the immunity protections in self-reporter cases, the Superior Court stated, “We cannot believe the Legislature intended to weigh the life of a self-reporter below the life of a drug overdose victim who has a conscientious associate. Whether a life is worth saving should not depend on the presence of a third party. We therefore conclude the immunities granted under the Act are available to self-reporters, so long as they meet all other requirements.”
Accordingly, Lewis’s judgment of sentence was reversed and, she was discharged.
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