The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 18

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Pennsylvania's Drug Immunity Statute
Whether immunity applies to the person experiencing the
overdose event likely would have made little difference in
circumstances such as those presented in Carontenuto (staff of a
recovery house would have little concern as to whether or not the
person overdosing would face criminal prosecution in deciding
whether to seek medical attention), but in many situations
whether there is immunity for the person potentially overdosing
could be an important factor as to whether medical treatment is
sought. Often, the person with someone experiencing a potential
overdose is not a disinterested professional, but someone with
a close relationship who has a personal interest in whether
the person is criminally charged; not only because of the
impact criminal charges would have on the person potentially
overdosing, but also because of the effect criminal charges would
have on their relationship with that person due to them being the
one who made the call that led to the person being charged.
While these considerations may seem ridiculous, given the
seriousness of a potential overdose, as a criminal law practitioner
I am certain that they would often play a role. By granting
immunity to the person experiencing the overdose event
regardless as to whether the person reporting it needs immunity,
allows that person to report a potential overdose without
questioning whether or not the situation is serious enough to
warrant the risk of criminal charges.
So, one issue regarding the immunity provided by Act
139 of 2014 has been answered ... for now at least-the
Commonwealth has filed in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
for Allowance of Appeal regarding the Carontenuto decision.
However, regardless of whether the Supreme Court hears the
Carontenuto case, there are many arguments presented by the law
that need to be answered through litigation. What qualifies as an
"overdose event"? What evidence of an event must a reporter see
for a belief to be "reasonable"? What does a reporter need to do
to be considered "cooperative"? These are issues that will surely
be addressed by our appellate courts, and probably already have

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18 | Berks Barrister

Continued from page 17

been at the Common Pleas level. One would hope in reaching
these decisions, our courts consider the ultimate policy goal of the
statute and the legitimate societal crisis, while also balancing the
good that government resources can provide those with substance
abuse problems. It will be an interesting study in both statutory
construction and the role of public policy in effectuating our laws.
More important than the criminal aspects, Act 139 of 2014
is a good faith, legitimate effort to address an issue which
is by all accounts a pressing health and welfare problem in
the Commonwealth. This is a fluid and evolving area of law,
evidenced not only by the issues to be litigated in court, but also
by the fact that there have been unsuccessful legislative efforts
in the past to remove the immunity for those experiencing the
overdose event. Those efforts may be revived in the new session
of the General Assembly. Furthermore, there are likely to be
legislative responses to any future appellate court interpretations
of the law.
Whatever the ultimate legislative answer is, let us hope it has
the desired impact.
Roarke Aston, Esquire, is a Berks
County Assistant Public Defender
and former editor of the Berks
County Law Journal.

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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Berks Barrister Winter 2017

The Berks Barrister Winter 2017 - 1
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http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksBarrister/Berksbarrister_Summer2019
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksBarrister/BerksBarrister_Springr2019
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksBarrister/Berksbarrister_Winter2019
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksBarrister/Berksbarrister_Summer2018
http://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksBarrister/berksbarrister_winter2017
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