Wednesday, May 22, 2024

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
Ph: 336.228.7851

Do sheriff’s deputies file criminal charges against overdose victims and bystanders?

QUESTION: Does the sheriff’s office file charges against victims of non-fatal overdoses or other individuals who happen to be on hand during such an overdose? How do deputies deal with any illegal drugs unrelated to the overdose that may also turn up at the scene?

ANSWER: There are apparently limits to the amnesty extended to overdose victims and others who are present when the overconsumption of illegal drugs leads to a medical crisis.

According to Byron Tucker, a spokesman for Alamance County’s sheriff, the agency’s deputies will typically follow the evidence to determine what charges are in order after a near-fatal overdose. He added that this standing policy led to the arrest of Graham resident Isabelle Ann Lucas, who was a witness to another individual’s overdose earlier this week [See separate story in this edition, link below].

Woman charged with providing heroin to overdose victim:

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“The policy is that we do an investigation,” Tucker went on to explain in an interview, “and in this case the suspect Ms. Lucas admitted that the drugs which officers saw at the residence belonged to her.”

Tucker nevertheless added that the sheriff’s office complies with a state law which provides limited immunity to victims and witnesses in a drug overdose case. According to the relevant statute, a person who acts in good faith to seek medical assistance for an overdose victim “shall not be prosecuted” on evidence that’s “obtained as a result” of their call. This qualified privilege, which also applies to a victim who seeks medical assistance, is only valid as long the caller isn’t anonymous and doesn’t seek medical help “during the course of the execution of an arrest warrant, search warrant, or other lawful search.”

Tucker said that there’s also no legal protection for contraband that law enforcement officers may come across which isn’t related to the actual overdose.

“If that’s the case,” he said, “we’re going to take the drugs into evidence and charge [the suspects] appropriately.”

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