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Understanding Tennessee’s Good Samaritan overdose law

On Behalf of | Feb 14, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Like states throughout the country, Tennessee has a law that provides some immunity from arrest and prosecution for drug-related offenses if those offenses are discovered only because they sought emergency help for an overdose. These “Good Samaritan” laws are aimed at reducing the alarming number of fatal overdoses – particularly those involving opioids. 

Too often, overdose victims have died because the people who are with them fled the scene and didn’t even call 911 out of fear that their call would be traced. Sometimes, even people who overdosed while they were alone didn’t call 911 for themselves out of the same fear. 

Studies have shown that these Good Samaritan laws have reduced fatal overdoses by as much as 15%. However, many people still aren’t aware of them.

When does immunity apply?

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…of the drug violation resulted from seeking such medical assistance.” 

The law also applies to anyone who is the “subject of a request for medical assistance. This request for medical assistance can involve calling 911, going to an emergency room or otherwise seeking emergency medical care.

The drug violations covered are the law are “simple possession or casual exchange” and possession of drug paraphernalia. Further, the law grants immunity for any violations of parole, probation or pretrial release if they’re discovered because of the call for help.

Even if evidence of an offense is discovered that doesn’t qualify for immunity, the law notes that the call for help can be used as a mitigating factor in prosecuting someone for that alleged offense.

If you believe that you or a loved one who’s facing a drug-related charge qualifies for immunity under this law or that the actions that led to the arrest should be a mitigating factor in their case, it’s crucial to seek legal guidance.