The epidemic of fatal drug overdoses has spared no state – certainly not Texas. That’s why, in an effort to encourage people who witness or themselves experience an apparent overdose to get emergency help, many states have enacted “Good Samaritan” laws that provide immunity from prosecution for those who call 911 or otherwise get this help.
The Texas law, which took effect several years ago, is officially named the Jessica Sosa Act after a Texas teen. It provides immunity from criminal charges for personal drug use if the activity is discovered by law enforcement only because a person sought emergency aid for an overdose. The goal is to prevent people from fleeing the scene and leaving someone to die.
Each state’s Good Samaritan overdose immunity law is unique. Some offer broader protections with fewer requirements to qualify for immunity than others. Let’s take a brief look at the Texas law.
What does the Texas law say?
The law provides immunity for criminal offenses involving “possession of small amounts of controlled substances, marihuana, dangerous drugs, or abusable volatile chemicals, or possession of drug paraphernalia” for the person who gets emergency help for someone who appears to overdosing. It provides the same immunity for the person overdosing, so people don’t have to worry that the overdose victim will end up in jail because they tried to help them.
Note the exceptions
For a person to qualify for immunity under the law, they must be the first one to seek help, remain at the scene and cooperate with first responders – including law enforcement officers. Further, the law doesn’t apply to someone who has at least one felony conviction on their record or who has sought help over the last 18 months for another overdose. It also doesn’t apply if police are already at a scene and a person points out that someone seems to be overdosing.
Note that it doesn’t cover more serious drug-related charges like trafficking or any non-drug-related offenses that police may discover evidence of when called to an overdose scene or to criminal activity not discovered because of the emergency call.
The Texas law makes no specific reference to considering someone’s “Good Samaritan” actions in charging them with a crime for which they don’t have immunity, as some state laws do. However, it’s always worthwhile to ask authorities to consider that. The law doesn’t always work perfectly in real life. That’s why if you believe you or a loved one has been wrongly charged, it’s smart to get legal guidance as soon as possible.