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Criminal Immunity in Drug Possession Cases

Did you know there is a law in Florida that requires your drug possession / possession of controlled substances case to be dropped under certain circumstances, even if it is undisputed you possessed the drugs?  Well, there is.

In 2012, the Florida Legislature determined it was in the interest of public safety and welfare to provide an incentive to persons aware of another’s drug overdose to seek medical attention for that individual.  As a result, the Legislature enacted the “911 Good Samaritan Act.”  The Act, codified as Florida Statute section 893.21, provides anyone “acting in good faith who seeks medical assistance for an individual experiencing a drug-related overdose” is immune from prosecution for drug possession if the evidence “was obtained as a result of the person’s seeking medical assistance.”

In plain language, this means is if you’re present during, or aware of, another individual’s drug overdose and you call 911 or otherwise seek medical assistance to help them, and during the process of helping them law enforcement discovers drugs in your possession, you cannot be prosecuted for possessing those drugs.  A recent case in Duval County shows the breadth of this protection. 

In the case of Thomas Pope, Mr. Pope and two friends were partying together at Pope’s home.  Pope laid out 9 lines of heroin and they each did three.  One of the friends, a young woman named Ashley, overdosed and stopped breathing. Pope quickly called 911, reported the overdose and provided his address.  He answered the 911 operator’s questions about Ashley’s condition, and he followed the operator’s detailed instructions to help her.

Attempting to then distance himself from the incident, however, Pope moved Ashley to his front porch and closed his door.  He also tried to hide the heroin and rearranged things inside his home.  When the emergency responders arrived, Pope initially refused to answer the door, and when he finally did answer, he did nothing to help them assist Ashley.  Worse yet, Pope denied even knowing Ashley, saying he had no idea where she came from or what she had taken.  Pope was belligerent, aggressive, and entirely uncooperative.

Jacksonville Sheriff Officers were also dispatched to investigate an unresponsive female.  When they arrived, they saw the emergency responders attending to a female lying on the front porch.  Pope came out of his house claiming he neither knew Ashley nor what had happened to her.  As the officers interviewed him further at his front door, they saw 2 lines of heroin next to a credit card and a plastic bag on the dining room table.

Pope was then detained and advised of his rights.  Pope eventually told the officers Ashley had snorted heroin before coming to his home and that they were friends.  Pope then denied there were any drugs or other people in his home.

The other friend in the home then exited and told the officers Ashley had come over to do heroin.  That friend also said Pope had asked him to help get Ashley out of the house and onto the porch after the incident.  The friend then told the officers “the heroin is on the table.  Test it, help her.”

Ashley was given Narcan to reverse the effects of her overdose.  She was then transported to the hospital in a non-life threatening condition.

While Ashley’s situation improved, Pope’s did not.  He was arrested for possession of heroin.  Pope’s lawyer astutely asserted Pope was immune from prosecution under section 893.21.  The trial court, however, disagreed, finding that although Pope initially had acted in good faith to assist Ashley, his subsequent conduct after he called 911 evidenced bad faith, thereby depriving him of  the protection of that section.  Pope was then sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Pope appealed his conviction.  The appellate court noted all Florida law requires for the immunity under section 893.21 is that the initial act of seeking medical assistance for an overdose victim is made in good faith.  What someone may do afterward is irrelevant.  Thus, the court found that by providing the 911 operator with Ashley’s location and condition and then following their instructions in rendering medical aid, he met the statute’s “good faith” requirement.  And, while the court agreed Pope could have, and should have, done more, it noted the Legislature did not “condition immunity on doing more than seeking medical assistance in good faith.”  Pope’s conviction was reversed and his case was dismissed.

Drug possession charges are serious felonies that can adversely affect your life if not correctly handled.  If you’ve been arrested for possession of controlled substances it’s very important to contact a Jacksonville criminal attorney knowledgeable about such charges and possible defenses to those charges.  Doing so will give you the best chance of avoiding a felony drug possession conviction and the resultant damage to your future.  Call me for a free consultation to discuss how I can help you with your controlled substances case in Duval, Clay, Nassau or St. Johns Counties.