(WatchDogReport.org) – The US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) heard arguments last Tuesday, February 22, in a prescription drug case. It involved a “pill mill” doctor, Xiulu Ruan, who wrote more than 300,000 prescriptions for the opioid fentanyl, and another doctor, Patrick Couch, convicted of selling the drug outright for cash or trade. While both men were convicted, their case could be tossed out if SCOTUS chooses to interpret the Controlled Substance Act in their favor.
The case before the court isn’t about exactly what the doctors did, but rather the language of the law used to prosecute and convict them. The juries in their cases weren’t allowed to hear evidence as to their state of mind, which their lawyers argue could have offered reasonable doubt if the jury found they acted in “good faith.”
As the Supreme Court considered the cases of two doctors accused of operating pill mills, the justices struggled to articulate a legal standard that would separate unconventional medical practices from drug dealing. https://t.co/6pFxVXmjni
— NYT National News (@NYTNational) March 2, 2022
The court will decide if their convictions should be thrown out in favor of a new trial that would allow that evidence. The federal circuit courts all follow a different set of rules on the issue, so a SCOTUS ruling could set a new precedent. Arguments in the case sounded more like a grade school grammar lesson at times, with Justice Stephen Breyer even bringing the name of his English teacher into it.
Eric Feigin, a lawyer for the US government, argued that the language requires the doctors to have followed established norms in prescribing the meds, which he says they ignored. Lawyers for the defense argued that medical standards are constantly evolving and there’s no way to have an established norm. The justices asked questions and presented analogies involving grammar rules and analogies about breaking minor laws that the defense said didn’t apply to major criminal charges.
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