Bad Samaritan Laws in the United States

People continuously encounter various situations, and some individuals witness dangerous incidents happen to other persons but do nothing to interfere. In his assessment, Dressler (2000) presents criminal cases where bystanders did not help victims and explain the nature of BS (Bad Samaritan) laws in the US. BS statutes are meant to produce positive outcomes for society but have substantial deficiencies, hinder individual liberty, and do not resolve root problems.

One needs to understand the essence of BS regulations to comprehend the arguments presented in the above-mentioned review. The public deems BS laws to be necessary due to offenses similar to the cases of Kitty Genovese and Sherrice Iverson (Dressler, 2000). In the former incident, Kitty Genovese was attacked and killed outside an apartment building, but thirty-eight civilians who heard her cries did nothing to aid for more than half an hour (Dressler, 2000). In the latter case, Sherrice Iverson, who was seven years old, was raped and murdered by a male teenager, and the attacker’s friend saw the process but did not interfere (Dressler, 2000). Accordingly, BS statutes are the rules that punish bystanders for not acting when witnessing another individual being harmed (Dressler, 2000). Therefore, some people believe that BS laws must be enacted to mandate everyone to help those in dangerous situations and penalize persons who do not interrupt crimes.

Despite having good intentions, BS regulations have several substantial flaws. The bystander in the Iverson case was David Cash, and he enraged society by saying that he did not aid Sherrice because she was a stranger (Dressler, 2000). Moreover, Cash did not want to be the one to take his friend’s, the attacker’s, freedom away and stated that the incident was not his problem (Dressler, 2000). Consequently, the first argument against BS statutes presented by Dressler (2000) is that such regulations strive to punish bystanders for being bad, self-centered individuals but not for not helping someone in need. Dressler (2000) proposes that criminal law is not and should not be used to penalize a person for their character, only for their acts. However, BS regulations are likely to be dictated by the public’s intense feelings, which focus on character evaluation rather than fundamental rules (Dressler, 2000). Therefore, the first flaw of BS laws is the high possibility of being unreasonable and emotional.

BS statutes have more drawbacks that must be considered before deciding to enact the regulations. Dressler (2000) argues that if BS rules concentrate on one’s personality, they are prone to punishing an innocent individual. While BS laws penalize a person for not acting, it is difficult to accurately determine one’s guilt in the real world (Dressler, 2000). For instance, prosecutors and advocates are likely to debate the reasons behind bystanders’ inactiveness, whether not thinking fast enough, possibly causing additional danger, or believing that someone else would help (Dressler, 2000). Although the general purpose of BS regulations is clear, punishing those who do not help victims, the rules are vague and based on imprecise factors (Dressler, 2000). Moreover, BS statutes are counterproductive in countries such as the US, which highly value individual liberty, because such laws restrict freedom by banning people from doing anything but aiding others (Dressler, 2000). In addition, BS laws may not enhance any state’s penal code but are likely to produce costs that outweigh potential benefits (Dressler, 2000). Accordingly, BS regulations are not precise enough and may punish an innocent person or restrain one’s autonomy.

Upon reading the assessment, I agree with the presented arguments. Dressler (2000) does not propose that those like David Cash should not be disciplined but rather claims that the current BS statutes must be improved before being used in practice. On the other hand, Dressler (2000) proposes that criminal law is not a cure for all problems, which suggests the idea that BS laws do not address root issues in the nation. For example, considering the above-discussed flaws, BS regulations prevent crimes, and even if they were accurate enough, such rules indicate societal troubles that discourage bystanders from acting. To add new information to the review, some reasons for people not to interfere with crimes are related to gender biases and the fear of personal safety (Agazue, 2021). Notably, BS statutes derive from incidents such as the Genovese case (Dressler, 2000). Nonetheless, it has been revealed that the original reports exaggerated and did not portray correctly the thirty-eight witnesses, many of whom did not see the attack clearly, and two did call the police (Agazue, 2021). Consequently, the arguments seem reasonable due to BS regulations not addressing some valuable matters.

To summarize, Bad Samaritan laws are meant to ensure that people seeing crimes will help victims but have several flaws. In particular, the author of the reviewed assessment disputes that BS statutes judge character rather than an act or inaction, may punish an innocent person, and hinder individual liberty. The arguments seem agreeable due to BS regulations not considering multiple factors that may prevent witnesses from interfering. For instance, people may not act due to gender biases regarding attackers and victims, or the public may demand bystanders to be penalized based on the spectators’ wrong portrayal in media reports. Therefore, although justice must be served, BS laws need improvements in specifying various situations and behaviors before being enacted. Perhaps, it may be better to teach people how to efficiently evaluate and react to different circumstances rather than mandating untrained civilians to intervene in crimes and risk more lives.


Agazue, C. (2021). Revisiting the gender-relations debate in the violent murder of Kitty Genovese: Another side of gender-bias favoring women in bystander reactions to emergencies. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 58, 1-12. Web.

Dressler, J. (2000). Some brief thoughts (mostly negative) about “bad Samaritan” laws. Santa Clara Law Review.

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LawBirdie. (2023) 'Bad Samaritan Laws in the United States'. 21 November.


LawBirdie. 2023. "Bad Samaritan Laws in the United States." November 21, 2023.

1. LawBirdie. "Bad Samaritan Laws in the United States." November 21, 2023.


LawBirdie. "Bad Samaritan Laws in the United States." November 21, 2023.