Supreme Court Discusses the Crime of Unauthorized Distribution of Controlled Substances

Many criminal offenses include an element of intent. In other words, the prosecution must show that the defendant acted knowingly or intentionally in order to obtain a conviction. When the terms of a criminal statute are vague, however, it may be unclear what evidence is necessary to obtain a conviction. The United States Supreme Court recently clarified what mens rea the prosecution must establish to convict a doctor of disbursing controlled substances in an unauthorized matter in violation of federal law. If you are charged with a drug crime or any other federal offense, it is smart to meet with a Michigan criminal defense attorney to assess your options.

History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant and numerous other pain management doctors were charged with and convicted of operating a medical practice that was essentially a racketeering enterprise in violation of federal law, including the Controlled Substances Act. At trial, the prosecution presented evidence that the defendant prescribed Schedule II drugs outside of the standard of care that applied to his practice and did so for their financial gain rather than the benefit of their patients. The defendant appealed his conviction, and the appellate court affirmed. The defendant then sought certiorari review.

The Mens Rea Needed to Convict a Defendant for Unauthorized Distribution of Controlled Substances

On appeal, the Court answered the question of whether a doctor that allegedly prescribed drugs outside of the usual scope of their professional practice should be convicted of unlawful distribution in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, despite the fact that they intended or reasonably believed that their prescriptions fell within the scope of their practice.

The Court ultimately answered no, and determined that for the offense of prescribing controlled substances in an unauthorized manner, the mens rea of intentionally or knowingly applied. In other words, if the defendant offers evidence that they had the authority to dispense controlled substances, the government must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant either acted in an unauthorized manner in prescribing the substances or intend to do so.

In other words, the government must prove that the defendant’s distribution of controlled substances was not only in fact for an unauthorized use, but also that the defendant knew or intended the use to be unauthorized. Thus, the Court vacated the lower court ruling and remanded the matter for further proceedings.

Confer with a Trusted Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney About Your Charges

Doctors that abuse their prescription privileges may be charged with federal offenses, but the prosecution generally must show that their unlawful acts were intentional, rather than inadvertent. If you are accused of a crime, it is critical to retain an attorney who will fight zealously on your behalf. Sam Bernstein of ArborYpsi Law is a trusted Michigan criminal defense attorney with the skills and experience needed to help you formulate a compelling defense, and if you hire him, he will work tirelessly on your behalf. You can contact Mr. Bernstein through the form online or by calling (734) 883-9584 to set up a conference.

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