What are the Good Samaritan Laws?
Good Samaritan laws are laws or acts offering legal protection to people who give reasonable assistance to those who are injured, ill, in peril, or otherwise incapacitated. In some cases, Good Samaritan laws encourage people to offer assistance (duty to rescue). The protection is intended to reduce bystanders’ hesitation to assist, for fear of being sued or prosecuted for unintentional injury or wrongful death.
In the past, Good Samaritan laws did not protect individuals in emergency situations that involved drugs. For this reason, many people feared getting involved by calling 911 or transporting the overdose victim to the hospital. As a result, so many people have lost their lives when they could have been saved.
The Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act, an amendment to the law, signed just last year, encourages people to call 911 for help without having to fear criminal prosecution for drug possession because it grants them immunity.
Under this law, someone who’s overdosing on drugs or seeking help for an overdose victim can’t be prosecuted for having a small amount of heroin or any amount of marijuana, for example.
Recently, already-established Good Samaritan laws have been amended to protect individuals in rendering aid to the specific life-threatening situation: drug overdose. In these cases, someone who calls 911, stays at the scene, and/or bring someone to the Emergency Room when they are overdosing is immune to any drug-related charges. The same goes for the overdose victim.
The Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act was originally vetoed in November by Gov. Christie but, he changed his mind after talking with singer Bon Jovi and reading the letters of many grieving parents of overdose victims.
Now that the Act has passed, altruistic individuals who call 911 when a friend or neighbor is overdosing will not be liable for drug use or possession charges for calling the police.
In addition, the Act also provides Good Samaritan protection for anyone administering an opioid antidote to an overdose victim. Medics and even average citizens in New Jersey can use these opioid antidotes to aid overdose victims without fear of being sued.
This may help the state reverse the alarming trend that left 180 dead from opioid overdose alone in 2009, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.
Still, nothing in the bill prevents law enforcement from charging anyone with a drug crime using evidence that is unrelated to calling for medical aid.
As for Bon Jovi, the singer/songwriter’s involvement in New Jersey’s Good Samaritan law follows his then-19-year-old daughter’s brush with a drug overdose in her college dorm room in New York in 2012.
New York’s Good Samaritan law for 911 callers allowed Bon Jovi’s daughter to be rescued by emergency responders and not charged with a drug crime.
Stephanie Rose Bongiovi, the 19-year-old daughter of rocker Jon Bon Jovi, was arrested after she allegedly overdosed on heroin. While police initially arrested Bongiovi and another student on suspicion of drug possession, those charges were later dropped.
Bongiovi could have faced misdemeanor charges for possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana, and criminal use of drug paraphernalia.
New York’s Good Samaritan 911 law is in place to ensure that those facing life-threatening drug overdoses call for help, instead of risking death over fear of being charged with a crime. That’s exactly what happened in Stephanie Rose Bongiovi’s case. Several other states also have similar Good Samaritan laws on the books.