ACLU of Ohio - Letter to City of Washington Court re Overdoses, 2017
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ACLU AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION o f OHIO I ·, March 28, 20 I 7 VIA CERTI FI E D MAIL AND EMAIL Mark Pitstick, Law Director, Washington Court I lquse l 17 N Main Street Washington Com1 House, OH 43160 RE: Exploiting Ohio's ''Inducin g Panic" s tatute to criminalize drug overd oses AMER ICAN CIVIL LIBEIHI ES UlllOll OF 011 10 FOU llDAT IOll 4506' CHESTER AVENUE ,CLEVELAND, OH 44 103-3621 T/2 16. 472. 2220 f/2 16.472.221 0 \'l\'l\'/.ACLUOHIO ORG con tactfaacluohio org Dear Mr. Pitstick: lt has come ta our attention that the City of Washington Court House has begun charging individuals with a violation of Ohio's Inducing Panic stalut~ 1 if they are treated by EMS fo r overdosing on opioid drugs. Th~ City must immediately discontinue this practice, which is not only an unlawful application of the Inducing Panic statute, but is also a counterproductive approach to the problem of drng use in your City. We understand that, according to the City, to be treated for a drug overdose by emergency.responders is to commit the crime of "caus[ihg} serious public inconvenic;:nce or alarm."2 Washington Court House police records reveal that during the pa~t two months, your police department has charged ·at least 12 people who suffered a drug overdose with a first degree mi sdemeanor under the .Inducing Panic law because law enforcement and medical rcspoi"1ders were called. Ohio faces a tragic problem in the overuse of heroin and other opioids. But funneling at-risk people into the criminal j ustice system because the); rel ied u1~o n emergency hel p during a medical crisis is not the answer. In fact, it may lead to even more tragic consequences. Heightening criminal penalties for drug use fa ils to address the tinderlyi ng ·causes of addiction, fa ils to prevent reeidivi s1i1, and- most perversely- makes individuals less likely to seek help when their loved ones desperately need it.3_ R.C. § 29 17.31 Jc/. at § 29 13.3 i°(A)(3) . 3 See ACLU apd Human Rights Watch," Every 25 Second~: The Human Toll of Cri111inalizing Drng Use in I he Unite<~ States, Oct. 12, 2016 , 1 2 , Your practice places friends, family, and neiglibors in the ~ifficult situation of choosing between lifosa.Jing treatment for their loved one while exposing tl~pm to cri.minnl prosecution, or not calling medical providers and seeking alternative treatments or sim1)Jy hoping th~ overdose is not fatal. This only exacerbates the dangers of the very .drug use the City is attempti11g to prevent. Ptinishing those who experience an overdose also shills the burden ofrehabilitation from the healthcare system-which is designed and equipped to treat addiction issues- to the criminal · justice system:._which is much less effective and much n1ore expensive. '- ~eyond this, misapprop;.iating the lncluci11g Panic statute to· criminalize cl1:ug addiction is not ·merely bad policy, it is unlawful. The City is hijacking a statute to·punish acts that_are no_t within its purview; the City cannot turn emergency need·f9r medical assistance into a criminal · act. Under Ohio law, law enforcement onicers performing their official dut.ies cannot be victims of slatutes like R..C. 2917.31." If receiving police or EMS assistance could be said fo qause Cl;iminal "in~onvenience or 41arm,".5 then "every time a police officer respond[ed] to ~~Ything · · other than a routine traffic investigation a potential defendarit could be charged with jnducing panic." 6 The City's misapplication of this statute den~onstrates that the law itself"impcrmissibly delegates basic policy matters to policemen ... for resolUtion on an ad hoc and subjective basis, wi~h the attendant dangers of arbitrary and discrim'inatory application."7 The City's pr~ctice ~nd . the ·statute as applied ar~ unconstitiiiional. We urge Washingt?n Court House to in,1111e9iately end its practice of charging people experiencing _a health crisis under this vague and inappropriate crin)inal statute. The City's unlawful applicatio1.1 of the statute will _i11tensify the clangers of heroin·use-not heljJ to control them. ??:))_ ___..,. ~1 Legal Director ACLU of Ohio E: StafT Atforiley ACLU of.. Ohio ' E: P: P: ~ State v. C01.•dell, 62 phio Misc.2d 542., 546, 604 N.E.2d· I 389 (M.C. 1992) citing State v. Miller, 67 Ohio App.2cl 127, 4~6 N. E.2d 497 (Jd Dist.1980); see also State v...Cauipbell,- 195 Ohio App.3cl 9, 20 l 1-0hio-34.59, 958 N,.E.2d 622 ~ 12 (I st Dist.) · . 5 R.C. §2917.3 l(A)(3) 6 Cordell. 62 Ohio.Misc.2d at 546 . 7 Graynedv. CityofRo~·kfonl, 408 U.S. 104, 107, 92.S.Ct.-2294 (1972) 4 • I