Mitigated Sentences for Prescription Drug Convictions

When Bucks County residents are convicted of committing serious drug offenses, their sentences will most likely be determined by Pennsylvania’s drug crimes sentencing guidelines. Sentencing guidelines include suggested minimum sentences for specific drug crimes as well as suggested maximum sentences for specific offenses.

Although there are guidelines for minimum and maximum sentences, those who are accused of committing drug crimes also need to understand that each case is unique and defendants may still be able to fight for sentences that are below minimum sentencing guidelines.

For example, a doctor from Philadelphia who was convicted last year of illegally selling prescription drugs has avoided being sentenced for the crimes based on minimum and maximum sentencing guidelines. The doctor is 79 years old and he has two adult daughters who have been in wheelchairs all of their lives as a result of a neurological disorder. After reviewing the man’s case, a judge decided that sentencing the man based on sentencing guidelines was not appropriate in this situation.

Although the man’s daughters have been able to go to college on their own and have earned advanced academic degrees, the man’s attorney argued that the doctor’s daughters are still dependant on their father and mother. In court, the man’s three daughters asked that the judge be lenient when sentencing their father. The man also suffers from several health complications, which could make his time in prison very challenging.

According to reports, the doctor was convicted in March 2012 of illegally selling prescription medications on several occasions between January 2005 and September 2010. He faced a minimum prison sentence of 12 ½ years for the crimes. After taking his situation into consideration, though, a judge concluded last week that the former doctor should be sentenced to serve seven years in prison and three years on probation. The doctor has also been sentenced to pay $40,000 in fines and some of his property may even be forfeited.

After announcing the sentence, the judge told the man that he was doing him a “favor.” The judge also noted that prescription drug use and abuse has become a significant problem and doctors need to be held responsible when they fail to distribute the medications under lawful and appropriate conditions.

Defendants who are facing drug charges will not want to proceed with their cases in court until they have developed a strategic defense and understand how the charges they are facing could affect them if they are convicted. An experienced and aggressive attorney will help folks handle these issues as strategically as possible.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, “‘Pill-mill’ doctor gets seven years in prison,” David Sell, Jan. 31, 2013


Pennsylvania House weighs expansion of designer drug ban

The Pennsylvania legislature is currently considering a bill that would expand the types of synthetic drugs that are prohibited. The state currently has laws that ban these substances, including bath salts, synthetic marijuana and any substance designed to imitate the effects of heroin, methamphetamine or cocaine. However, drug manufacturers are still able to change the formulation of the drug and produce a similar substance that is not contained within the list of illegal substances.

Supporters of the bill, known as House Bill 1217, believe that if it ultimately becomes law, it will be more difficult for synthetic drug manufacturers to get around the law by making minor chemical changes. This may make it easier for law enforcement to catch those creating and selling so-called designer drugs.

The bill was approved by a legislative committee in the House of Representatives on April 22. The full House will now consider the proposed law. If it passes the House, it must also be approved by the Senate before being forwarded to the governor for approval. It was not stated whether or not the governor supports the bill.

Act 7 of 2011 amended the Pennsylvania controlled substance act to make designer drugs a Schedule I controlled substance, which means the government believes the drugs have no accepted medical purpose and a high potential for abuse. Any person who has been charged with a crime related to the possession, sale or manufacture of designer drugs may benefit from speaking with a defense lawyer to discuss the situation. In some cases, a lawyer may be able to get a person into a drug diversion program to avoid some of the penalties of a conviction or possibly negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecution for a reduced sentence.

Source: WHTM, “Pa. bill would expand designer drug ban,” Myles Snyder, April 23, 2013

Source: General Assembly, “SB 1006,” June 23, 2011

The Problem of Mandatory Sentencing

Many states, including Pennsylvania, have begun to reform their sentencing laws in regards to mandatory sentencing. Mandatory sentencing, normally subjected to those convicted of drug charges, is a minimum sentence that is to be given to someone convicted of a specific crime. Since it’s introduction in the 1970s, the prison population in the U.S. has quadrupled. The U.S. currently incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other country, including Iran and China.

Many politicians believe that mandatory sentencing is causing more problems than it is solving. In addition to states changing their laws, this concern has pushed the federal government to consider legislation that would do the same. Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder directed prosecutors working on federal cases to not introduce evidence against people with a limited criminal history that could cause such sentences to be given.

Those in favor of reform want to completely do away with these sentences of non-violent crimes. They also want sentencing to be back in the hands of judges for minor drug crimes. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is co-sponsoring federal legislation to reform the practice for federal crimes because he thinks mandatory sentencing is costly and unfair.

These laws have filled prisons with non-violent criminals and haven’t stopped the sale or use of illegal drugs. This movement to end these mandatory minimum sentences may help many people avoid prison sentences that are a harsher punishment than the crime they were convicted of deserves. While Pennsylvania has taken steps to address the issue, those with drug charges still face the possibility of long prison sentences. An attorney may be able to assist those charged with drug crimes better understand what options they have to protect their future. An attorney could also negotiate for a plea deal with the prosecution that results in their client enrolling in a substance abuse program.

Source: The Week, “Rethinking mandatory sentencing“, Dan Stewart, September 14, 2013

Philadelphia police officers sued for planting drugs at apartment

Dozens of drug cases are being dropped by the Philadelphia district attorney’s office after several officers had been accused of making false arrests, using excessive force and planting drugs while conducting drug crime investigations in the area.

When the Philadelphia police officers had their credibility questioned last year, it was also reported that dozens of other cases involving the officers would likely need to be reexamined in order to determine whether similar wrongdoings and violations were made in those cases. And a few weeks ago, three individuals who have claimed that they are victims of these wrongdoings reported that they are now filing a lawsuit against several of the officers for illegally raiding their apartment and arresting them.

The lawsuit was filed by three individuals who were inside an apartment unit when police raided the unit on July 31, 2012. Several officers that are named in the lawsuit are the same officers who were involved in the dozens of cases that had to be dropped late last year due to credibility concerns. Other officers have also been named in the lawsuit for allegedly conducting the illegal arrests and planting evidence at the apartment.

According to the lawsuit, police had executed a search warrant at the wrong apartment unit. Police also allegedly harassed the occupants and then arrested the individuals after planting drugs in their apartment. After arresting the occupants, it was later discovered that police were supposed to execute the search warrant at a different unit at the same apartment complex.

Although many drug arrests are conducted lawfully, folks should always consider consulting an attorney after being accused of committing drug crimes in order to make sure they protect their rights as best as possible. Clearly, mistakes may be made when executing search warrants and conducting criminal investigations, but even when arrests are conducted lawfully, an aggressive defense attorney may still help to mitigate the consequences of a drug arrest in Pennsylvania.

Source: Philly.com, “Lawsuit accuses cops of false arrests,” Morgan Zalot, Feb. 1, 2013