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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 ,
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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)

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