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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

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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