The opioid epidemic has claimed many lives. Many lives have been lost because people feared being arrested and prosecuted for certain drug offenses if they sought medical help for themselves or someone else suffering an overdose. In 2015, Virginia enacted the Safe Overdose Reporting Law, which attempted to address this issue. The law is codified under Virginia Code § 18.2-251.03 and provides a shield against arrest and prosecution for certain people who seek or obtain overdose emergency medical attention. The purpose of the law is to encourage people to seek help without the fear of being punished.
In order to be protected from arrest or prosecution due to an illegal drug overdose under the law, you must:
Seek or obtain medical attention “in good faith.”
Report the overdose to an emergency personnel at the time you seek or obtain the medical attention.
Remain at the scene of the overdose or at the location where you are taken for treatment until a police officer shows up. If no officer shows up, you must cooperate with law enforcement when they follow up with you.
Identify yourself to the responding officer.
If you meet these criteria, you would be shielded from arrest or prosecution for any drug-related offense at the time of the overdose.
Virginia's Safe Overdose Reporting Law shields you from arrest or prosecution for the following offenses listed in the law:
unlawful purchase, possession, or consumption of alcohol
possession of a controlled substance
possession of marijuana, intoxication in public
possession of controlled paraphernalia
The law does not provide any protection from arrest or prosecution for any offenses other than these.
Virginia's Safe Overdose Reporting Law does not shield you from arrest or prosecution for the offenses listed in the law if you or someone is experiencing an overdose and seek or obtain help when the police are executing a search warrant or conducting a lawful search or arrest.
The simple answer is maybe. Virginia passed the Safe Overdose Reporting Law in the 2015 legislative session and it took effect on July 1, 2015. However, the law has been amended and expanded several times since then. The most recent version went into effect on July 1, 2020. One court has found that the law applies retroactively, even if you were arrested or charged before the law went into effect. The law's retroactivity only reaches back to cases that were pending in court prior to the effective date of the law. If you were convicted of one of the offenses that the law now shields you from before the law took effect, you cannot challenge your conviction under the 2015 shield from prosecution.
The answer is no. The Safe Overdose Reporting Law has a provision that grants the police immunity from liability for false arrest if the police arrest you but then you are later determined to meet the criteria to be shielded from prosecution.
Drug offenses are among the most prosecuted in Virginia, and they can carry stiff penalties. You need an attorney who is trained in drug defense. Such an attorney can make sure you get the best outcome in your case. Bryan J. Jones is committed to his clients and will develop a defense strategy tailored just for you. Contact Bryan J. Jones, LLC today.