Appeals: Lower courts have no jurisdiction
Judges can’t apply ‘good Samaritan’ law to felonies
WARREN — A lower county court does not have jurisdiction to apply the “good Samaritan” law to felony charges by dismissing them under an immunity clause meant to encourage 911 calls for drug overdose victims, according to a recent ruling by the 11th District Court of Appeals.
The immunity clause, enacted in late 2016 by Ohio lawmakers, prohibits charges being filed against people found with drugs if the only reason the drugs were found was because someone called 911 to help someone they believe is overdosing. It was passed in response to the opioid crisis that has killed record numbers in Ohio. The person can’t be on parole or probation and must seek help within 30 days to qualify.
A 2016 case that arose in Trumbull County Central District Court led to the appeals court decision, which sends the case back into the court to progress, according to the appeals court ruling.
Nicholas Craciun was arrested in October 2016 on charges of aggravated possession of drugs, possession of drugs, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and endangering children the day after his “young” daughter was unable to wake him up and called 911, according to court documents.
He pleaded not guilty, and then filed a motion seeking a dismissal in December 2016. The state filed a motion appealing the dismissal and in August 2017, Judge Thomas Campbell granted the motion to dismiss all the charges, except the child endangering charge, after taking time to study the new law, according to court filings.
Prosecutors appealed Campbell’s decision, claiming the court erred in dismissing the four charges, that Craciun wasn’t eligible for immunity because he didn’t overdose, and that the court didn’t have jurisdiction to dismiss felony charges and the accompanying misdemeanor charges.
Appeals court Judge Timothy P. Cannon penned the opinion, finding merit in the state’s third assignment of error, calling the first two claims “moot.”
Judge Diane V. Grendell concurs with the judgment, but for differing reasons.
Grendell states the lower court’s decision should be turned over because proper procedure wasn’t followed, by not giving prosecutors a chance to argue against Craciun’s motion to dismiss or requiring documented proof Craciun met the immunity standards.
“When a municipal or county level court is considering discharging a defendant for any reason that is permissible, it is necessary to provide both parties with the opportunity to present evidence and for the court to fully consider said evidence. This would be the case in both probable cause hearings and in any instances where dismissal may be appropriate. Here, the lower court ruled upon a motion to dismiss based on the grounds of immunity but made its decision without allowing the state to present its arguments and without having any documents in the record to prove certain facts required for immunity,” Grendell states. “For immunity to apply, it was necessary for Craciun to seek a screening and receive a referral for drug addiction and present documentation of that fact to the prosecutor. Since this documentation is not in the record, it is not evident whether such a screening ever occurred, or at least that it was properly proven to the court.”
Judge Colleen Mary O’Toole dissented completely.
O’Toole states claims that Craciun hadn’t actually overdosed when police and medics were called to his house does not matter in the case.
“Because the call for assistance was prompted by a layman’s reasonable concern of possible overdose, the court believes the statute applies. To do otherwise would clearly negate the clear purpose of the statute, to encourage calls for help and prevent the loss of life,” O’Toole states. “The Ohio legislature enacted the law at issue to encourage persons to obtain medical assistance for others, where such assistance may have been delayed or avoided altogether due to the possibility that the individual in need of assistance could face possible criminal charges. The trial court’s judgment entry recognized that the ‘clear purpose of the statute [is to] encourage calls for help and prevent the loss of life.'”
O’Toole argues the court can dismiss the case without a hearing, as long as the court places the “findings of fact and reasons for the dismissal on the record,” which Campbell did, she states. The lower courts are specifically granted the right to “order the accused discharged,” she states.
The case will head back to Trumbull County Central District Court, where a charge of child endangering filed against Craciun for the same incident — which was not dismissed — has been on hold.