Supreme Court Explains Evidence Needed to Convict for Violations of the Controlled Substance Act

While ignorance of the law is not a defense, criminal statutes generally aim to punish intentional wrongdoing. Thus, in many instances, the prosecution must prove that the defendant purposely committed the unlawful act. Some statutes are vague, though, leaving room for interpretation as to what evidence is needed to obtain a conviction. Until recently, it was not clear whether a defendant could be convicted for violating the Controlled Substances Act (the Act) if they were unaware that their actions were unauthorized. The United States Supreme Court issued a ruling clarifying what evidence is needed to convict a doctor of disbursing controlled substances in an unauthorized matter in violation of the Act. If you are charged with a drug crime or any other federal offense, it is smart to meet with a Sarasota criminal defense attorney to assess your options.

Background of the Case

It is alleged that the government charged the defendant and several other pain management doctors with operating a medical practice as a racketeering enterprise in violation of the Act and other federal laws. The prosecution offered evidence at trial that the defendant prescribed opioids in a manner that did not comply with the applicable standard of care and that he acted for financial gain rather than to help his patients. A jury convicted the defendant and he appealed.  The appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling, and the defendant sought certiorari review.

Evidence Needed to Convict for Violations of the Controlled Substance Act

The sole issue on appeal was whether a physician that prescribes controlled substances outside of the scope of what is typically in their practice can be convicted of unlawful distribution of controlled substances in violation of the Act, if they harbored a reasonable belief that they were acting within the scope of their practice.

The Court ultimately resolved the issue in favor of the defendant. Specifically, it ruled that the knowing or intentional mens rea applied to the crime of prescribing controlled substances in an unauthorized manner in violation of the Act. The Court elaborated that when a defendant presents evidence that they are authorized to disburse controlled substances, the government needs to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant either acted or intended to act in an unauthorized manner in prescribing the substances.

In sum, the government needs to show not only that the defendant’s distribution of controlled substances was in fact for an unauthorized use, but also that the defendant’s intent was for the use to be unauthorized. As such, the Court vacated the lower court ruling.

Confer with a Trusted Sarasota Criminal Defense Attorney

Drug crimes carry lengthy prison terms and substantial fines, but if the government is unable to prove each element of the charged offense it should not be able to obtain a conviction. If you are accused of a crime, it is smart to hire an attorney who will fight aggressively on your behalf. The trusted Sarasota criminal defense lawyers of Hanlon Law are well-versed in what it takes to obtain favorable outcomes in criminal matters. You can reach Hanlon Law through the online form or by calling 941-462-1789 to set up a meeting.

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