Defending prescription drug cases in the federal courts

The dramatic increase in narcotic pain medication prescriptions in the United States over the last twenty some years has resulted in a thriving black market for these highly addictive drugs.  Prescription pain medications that are frequently abused include oxycontin or oxycodone, roxycodone, percocet, actiq, dilaudid, and many others.  Law enforcement has responded by aggressively investigating and prosecuting prescription drug cases.  If you are reading this page, perhaps you are concerned that yourself or someone you know may be investigated or charged for a crime involving prescription fraud.  What should you know about these kinds of cases?

Where these cases come from

First, many prescription drug fraud investigations begin with an arrest by local police, perhaps involving an individual attempting to pass a fake prescription at a pharmacy.  If it appears that the individual arrested has ties to other individuals distributing significant quantities of pain medication, federal law enforcement may take over the case.

The federal government also prosecutes doctors and other health care professionals for prescription fraud.  How does the government prove that these medical professionals were essentially dealing drugs rather than treating their patients’ pain?  That is a difficult question, which is often a matter of contention where medical professionals are targeted by law enforcement.

Penalties for prescription drug fraud

In many instances, the federal investigation results in indictment(s) for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.  Unlike many other federal drug charges, federal prescription drug charges do not carry mandatory minimums.  However, the federal sentencing guidelines call for heavy sentences where the number of pills involved is high (as, in federal cases, it usually is).  Moreover, as in all federal drug cases, the individual charged is often held responsible not just for pills they personally distributed, but for the total number of pills distributed by the alleged conspiracy.   Sentences exceeding ten years are not uncommon.

Seek legal counsel as soon as possible

If you believe that you or someone you know is being investigated for prescription drug fraud, contact a federal criminal defense lawyer immediately.  Hiring a lawyer before arrest and/or charges dramatically improves your chances of favorably resolving the case.  If charges are inevitable, your federal criminal attorney can pursue many avenues to contest them, or to negotiate a favorable resolution, as the circumstances of your case may dictate.

If you have other questions, please contact us for a free consult.

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SCOTUS decision on criminal threats in United States v. Elonis

We have previously commented on United States v. Elonis, a criminal threats case before the Supreme Court this term.  The decision came down today, in favor of the defendant.

The defendant had been convicted at trial of threatening several individuals on Facebook.  The trial judge refused to instruct the jury that a conviction required proof that the defendant intended to make a threat.  Although the jury was told that the government must prove that a reasonable person would interpret the defendant’s words (or “posts”) as a threat, it did not have to prove the defendant meant his words to be taken that way.

The Supreme Court decided these instructions were error and that the statute required proof of the defendant’s intent to threaten.  The ruling was based on the Court’s long tradition of interpreting criminal statutes to require intent unless the legislature clearly intended otherwise.  The question of whether proof of “recklessness” was sufficient to meet this burden was left open.

Unfortunately for state court practitioners, the Court did not decide whether the First Amendment requires proof of intent to threaten.  Because federal law required proof of intent, it was not necessary for the Court to decide if the Constitution did as well.  The case will therefore have limited application outside the federal courts.