TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Pointing to a “Good Samaritan” law passed in 2012, a state appeals court Friday said a man should have been immune from prosecution on drug charges because he called 911 to seek help when a friend overdosed on heroin.
The 2012 law shields people from prosecution on drug-possession charges if they act in “good faith” to seek medical assistance for drug users who overdose, the ruling by a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal said.
In the case, Thomas Pope and two friends were doing heroin in December 2016 when one of the friends, identified in the ruling only as Ashley, overdosed and stopped breathing. Pope called 911, provided his address and followed instructions from a 911 operator to aid the woman who had overdosed.
But the appeals court said Pope’s conduct was “far from exemplary,” as he moved the woman to a porch and briefly left her unattended, tried to hide the heroin and initially refused to answer the door for first responders.
He also denied knowing the woman and was described in the ruling as “belligerent, somewhat aggressive, and entirely uncooperative.” The woman survived the overdose, but Pope was charged with possession of heroin and marijuana found inside the home.
Pope sought dismissal of the charges under the “Good Samaritan” law, but a Duval County circuit judge rejected the dismissal, finding that he had not acted in “good faith” when he made the situation more difficult for first responders, the appeals court said.
Pope ultimately pleaded guilty to the drug charges but reserved his right to appeal.
The three-judge panel overturned the circuit judge’s decision, finding that Pope’s 911 call to save his friend was a “good faith” purpose.
“Pope argues that by providing the 911 operator with Ashley’s location and condition, and then following the operator’s instructions in rendering medical aid, he met the statute’s ‘good faith’ requirement,” said the four-page ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Allen Winsor and joined by judges Scott Makar and Thomas Winokur. “The trial court’s contrary conclusion --- and the state’s (prosecutors’) argument on appeal --- relate more to what Pope did after he sought medical assistance. The state argues (correctly) that Pope could have and should have done more. But the Legislature did not condition immunity on doing more than seeking medical assistance in good faith.”