Immunity defense rejected in drug case

Virginia Senate Bill 667 protects individuals who contact emergency services to report an overdose or other drug-related medical situation from criminal prosecution. However, a case involving a 25-year-old Frederick County woman suggests that this legal protection may not be as robust as it appears. The woman called 911 in September 2019 to report that she had become paranoid, delusional, and suicidal after taking methamphetamine. She was later charged with drug possession even though SB 667 states that individuals who suffer a life-threatening drug-related emergency will not be charged or prosecuted if they or a bystander calls for help.

Judge denies immunity defense.

The woman’s attorney challenged the legitimacy of the prosecution based on the language of SB 667. On Oct. 6, a county judge ruled that the woman was not protected by the law because she was acting erratically before she took the drugs that prompted her 911 call. During the hearing, a witness testified that the woman had been acting "strangely" the previous evening. This led the judge to conclude that she suffered from a mental health issue rather than a drug-related emergency.

Prosecutors oppose SB 667

County prosecutors have been fierce critics of SB 667. They say the law makes it more difficult to divert individuals with substance abuse problems into treatment programs. Supporters of the legislation point out that these programs are rarely successful, violate the rights of patients, and do not use drugs like buprenorphine and methadone that can treat addiction effectively.

Alternatives to incarceration

When individuals with no history of violent behavior face drug charges, experienced criminal defense attorneys may urge prosecutors to consider alternatives to incarceration. Attorneys might point out that the chief goal of the criminal justice system should be rehabilitation, and they may argue that punishing drug offenders without addressing the underlying issue of addiction places an undue burden on taxpayers and does little to benefit the community.