Tennessee, like just about every place else in the U.S., has a serious issue with fatal drug overdoses. Many of these deaths are preventable if the person overdosing gets medical attention quickly.
That’s why Tennessee, like most states, has enacted a “Good Samaritan” overdose immunity law. It is meant to encourage people to call 911 or otherwise seek immediate medical attention for an overdose victim – including themselves – without fear of arrest for their own drug use or risking arrest of the person they’re trying to help.
What does Tennessee law say?
All states’ immunity laws differ somewhat. Under Tennessee law, anyone who “in good faith seeks medical assistance for a person experiencing or believed to be experiencing a drug overdose shall not be arrested, charged, or prosecuted for a drug violation if the evidence…resulted from seeking such medical assistance.” The law also applies to the “subject of a request for medical assistance.”
The law is intended to protect people from arrest for relatively minor drug offenses – not selling or trafficking drugs – if those offenses are discovered only because they sought help for someone. The term “in good faith” means they called 911 or another emergency number out of genuine fear for someone’s (or their own) safety. If someone’s in the process of being searched or arrested, calling attention to another person who appears to be overdosing likely won’t get them immunity under this law.
The law covers offenses related to “simple possession or casual exchange.” That includes possession and use of drug paraphernalia. Immunity also extends to anyone who is violating the conditions of probation, parole or pretrial release by using drugs if they’re the ones who sought help.
What about other criminal offenses?
The law doesn’t apply to serious drug offenses, as we noted, or non-drug-related offenses that are discovered when the police show up at the scene of the overdose. If an apartment is filled with stolen electronics or jewelry, for example, you won’t qualify for immunity under this law. The law does note, however, that the fact that you sought help for someone can be a “mitigating factor in a criminal prosecution for which immunity…is not provided.”
If you’re facing charges, whether wrongfully or not, in any of these scenarios, it’s wise to have experienced legal guidance. The right assistance can help you protect your rights and fight for the best possible outcome.