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Noble v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

July 25, 2018

CHRISTOPHER NOBLE
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

          Circuit Court for Caroline County Case No. 05-K-13-009620

          Graeff, Leahy, Salmon, James P. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          Graeff, J.

         This appeal involves the scope of Md. Code (2017 Supp.) § 1-210 of the Criminal Procedure Article ("CP"), which provides immunity from arrest, charge, prosecution, and sanctions for violations of probation under certain circumstances when medical assistance is requested in response to a suspected drug overdose. Appellant, Christopher Noble, appeals from the ruling of the Circuit Court for Caroline County finding him in violation of probation, revoking his probation, and sentencing him to 18 months of incarceration, with credit for time served. He argues that the circuit court's sanction, based on its finding that he violated his probation by failing to abstain from drugs, was erroneous because the evidence used to support the court's finding of a violation of probation was obtained as a result of his girlfriend's actions in calling 911 when he was unconscious.

         Appellant presents the following question for this Court's review:

Does the immunity from sanctions for probation violations created by CP Article § 1-210 extend to overdose victims regardless of whether medical assistance is sought by the victim or a bystander?

         For the reasons set forth below, we answer that question in the affirmative, and therefore, we shall vacate the judgment of the circuit court and remand for further proceedings.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The violation of probation proceedings at issue relate to appellant's initial guilty plea on July 17, 2013, to conspiracy to possess a narcotic with intent to distribute. The circuit court sentenced appellant to 18 months of incarceration, all suspended, and it placed appellant on probation.

         On June 18, 2014, the circuit court found appellant to be in violation of his probation. It revoked appellant's probation and reinstated the original 18-month sentence of incarceration, with credit for 40 days time served.

         Appellant subsequently filed a motion for modification of sentence. On October 28, 2014, the court suspended the remaining unserved portion of his sentence, and it placed appellant on probation for three years.

         On April 29, 2016, paramedics responded to a call for "an unresponsive person, thought to be in cardiac arrest." They discovered appellant in the bathroom, lying on his back. He was unresponsive and suffering from respiratory depression, i.e., he was breathing approximately four times a minute. Based on appellant's pinpoint pupils and his respiratory depression, the paramedics concluded that appellant was suffering from an opiate overdose, and they administered Naloxone.[1] Appellant regained consciousness within minutes. He initially stated that "he was just working hard that day, and he took some Benadryl." Appellant later told the police that he had taken several Percocet.[2] He declined to go to the hospital.

         On July 19, 2016, the Division of Parole and Probation ("DPP") filed in the circuit court a Request for Summons ("Request"), advising the court that appellant was "not in compliance with conditions of probation." In an attached Statement of Charges, DPP indicated that appellant had violated the following probationary conditions:

(1) Condition #1 - Report as directed and follow your supervising agent's lawful instructions;
(2) Condition #8 - Do not illegally possess, use, or sell any narcotic drug, controlled substance, counterfeit substance, or related paraphernalia;
(3) Condition #13 - Submit to, successfully complete, and pay required costs for alcohol and drug evaluation, testing, treatment, as directed by your supervising agent; and
(4) Condition #16 - Totally abstain from alcohol, illegal substances, and abusive use of any prescription drug.

         The Statement of Charges provided that conditions #8 and #16 were violated as a result of appellant's April 29, 2016, overdose.

         On July 26, 2016, the circuit court issued an order scheduling a violation of probation hearing. Appellant subsequently filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that he had immunity based on CP § 1-210. In support of his motion, appellant provided, as Exhibit 1, a "Fact Sheet" from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene regarding "Maryland's Good Samaritan Law," which stated, in part: "The law protects a person from a violation of a condition of pretrial release, probation, or parole, if the evidence of the violation was obtained solely as a result of a person seeking, providing or assisting with medical help to save someone's life."[3]

         On November 16, 2016, the court held a hearing on the motion. The State noted that, pursuant to CP § 1-210, a person who seeks or provides medical assistance for a person experiencing a medical emergency after using drugs will not be sanctioned. It argued, however, that appellant did not seek assistance, but rather, appellant's girlfriend called 911, and under these circumstances, appellant was not protected from sanction for a violation of probation. The circuit court stated that it agreed with the State's position that appellant was not immunized from sanction for the violation of probation, and it denied appellant's motion to dismiss.

         On December 7, 2016, the court held a violation of probation hearing. Ben Wilson, the reporting paramedic, testified as to the events that transpired when he arrived at the scene, including his treatment of appellant.

         Robert McDonald, a probation officer with the Division of Parole and Probation ("DPP"), testified from DPP records regarding the supervision of appellant while on probation. As part of appellant's terms of probation, he was directed to attend and complete alcohol and drug treatment. Mr. McDonald testified that, although DPP had records indicating that appellant entered the program, there was "no verification that [appellant] successfully completed the program." He stated that appellant had been cited for violating the condition of probation, which required that he regularly report to DPP, based on his "failing to report on June 2nd, July 7th, and July 14th, [2016, ] and anytime thereafter."[4] Mr. McDonald testified that appellant violated two other conditions: condition eight, that appellant not illegally possess, use, or sell any controlled dangerous substance; and condition 16, that he abstain from illegal substances or abusive use of any prescription drugs.

         Appellant testified that he was 31 years old, and he had reported to DPP "[m]ultiple times" since June 2016. He agreed that he failed to report to his probation officer on the dates listed by Mr. McDonald. He stated that, on April 29, 2016, he had taken some medicine given to him by a friend, which he thought was Tylenol or ibuprofen, but he told the police that it possibly was Percocet because he was afraid for his life. When asked if it was true that the paramedics told him he should go to the hospital and he refused, appellant stated that, at the time, he was "in shock."

         The circuit court found that there was clear and convincing evidence that appellant had violated the terms and conditions of his probation. It found that appellant failed to satisfy the conditions of his probation by failing to report, complete alcohol and drug treatment, and abstain from illegal substances, "specifically the use of any prescription drug." With respect to the latter finding, the court relied on Mr. Wilson's testimony that, after finding appellant unresponsive on the bathroom floor, he administered Narcan (naloxone), which is designed to revive someone who has overdosed on an opiate, and when appellant was revived, he stated that he had taken Percocet. The circuit court revoked appellant's probation and sentenced him to 18 months of incarceration, with credit for five months already served.

         Appellant filed an application for leave to appeal. This Court granted the application and set the ...


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