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Litigation Blog.
The seasoned lawyers and litigators at The Rubinstein Law Firm are here to share their insights with you.

Appeals Court overturns opiate crime sentence

Michigan does not fall under the Fourth Circuit Court jurisdiction, which is along the central Atlantic seaboard. Nevertheless, it is worth acknowledging that three judges on the appeals court overturned a 17-year prison sentence within the sentencing guidelines. The 2-1 ruling cited such factors as the defendant’s severe opium addiction, which started when doctors prescribed her the drugs as a teen in 2000 after breaking her tailbone.

Addicted defendant forges prescriptions

The woman was sentenced in 2018 by a District Judge in South Carolina after the defendant pled guilty to possession of oxycodone and hydrocodone with intent to distribute. The defendant forged prescriptions for these drugs, keeping some for herself and selling pills to another woman. The initial sentence used the number of pills the defendant obtained, estimated to be 175,200, using the fraudulent prescriptions. The amount of drugs was the sentencing equivalent of nearly 26,500 pounds of marijuana.

A poor defense

The court also determined that the lawyer at the sentencing did not properly defend their client. While the defendant admitted one amount to law enforcement, the defendant’s attorney did not dispute the amount of drugs cited in the sentence. Instead, they tried to get the defendant into a drug treatment program rather than prison. The defendant had no history of violence connected with drug use, and she mainly sold to one person at a below-market price. One judge added that the lower court did not adequately consider the role that addiction played in this crime.

The impact

Opioid addiction will continue to be a significant issue in cases against the manufacturers and distributors who potentially acted to create the drug epidemic to make more money. The billion-dollar case involving Purdue Pharma is still active and there looks to other legal action as well. These cases argue that addicts were innocent victims in the manufacturers’ criminal enterprises. This thinking in this landmark ruling could impact how courts around the country handle other individual defendants’ criminal cases involving opioids in the coming years.