I don’t often write about appellate opinions from appellate courts of states other than Georgia, but as I was reading some recent appellate opinions, the Virginia case of Morris v. Commonwealth of Virginia, No. 1194-21-2 (VA Ct. App. May 9, 2023) and not for good reasons. Morris involves Virginia’s overdose reporting statute, Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-251.03(B)(2). Georgia has a similar statute but ours is arguably not as restrictive as Virginia’s and hopefully, our Georgia Appellate Courts won’t interpret it as strictly.
In Morris, Henrico, Virgina police officers observed a white Ford Edge trying to turn onto the road next to an emergency room. The vehicle nearly struck a curb in the turn lane and then stopped in the middle of the road, blocking through-traffic. The officers approached the vehicle, driven by Morris, and asked him to park the car. Morris said that “he was there to get help,” telling the officers that he had smoked crack cocaine. The officers thought he appeared to be under the influence of drugs and escorted Morris into the emergency room. As medical personnel drew a blood sample, Morris “made suicidal statements.” In response to law enforcement questioning, Morris said that he worked at Food Lion; he was high while at work and asked to sit in his boss’s car to call his mother; he had called his mother “because he was thinking about committing suicide”; and he had driven away from the Food Lion and had driven around awhile before heading to the Short Pump emergency room. When asked whether his mother had told him to “go to the ER,” Morris said he “chose to do so himself” because “he was thinking about suicide.” When an officer asked why he was considering suicide, Morris responded, “drugs.” Morris said that he used heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine, that he had smoked crack cocaine in his boss’s car, and that he “came to the ER to get help for the suicidal thoughts and his drug problem.” Morris alerted the officers to a crack pipe in the vehicle, which they found tucked in the crevice of the passenger seat. Morris v. Commonwealth, 1194-21-2, 2023 WL 3310315, at 1–2 (Va. Ct. App. May 9, 2023).
The Virginia overdose amnesty statute provides full immunity from “arrest or prosecution” for qualifying individuals (prior versions had characterized the immunity as an “affirmative defense”). It was amended to cover not only someone who helps another experiencing an overdose, but also the person who “is experiencing an overdose”—assuming other criteria in the statute are met. Before these expansions, we observed that the “clear purpose” of the law was to “encourage … prompt emergency medical treatment [for] those who have suffered an overdose as a result of ingesting a controlled substance.” Georgia’s drug overdose amnesty statute is similar. But the Virgina statute has a curious requirement that the statute does not apply unless the individual “remains at the scene of the overdose or at any alternative location to which he … has been transported until a law-enforcement officer responds to the report of an overdose.”