Supreme Court Ruling Complicates Opioid Cases
(USNewsBreak.com) – The opioid crisis continues to claim lives and devastate families daily. Many place the blame on pharmaceutical companies that pushed these drugs in the ’90s and weren’t upfront about their potentially addictive nature. In addition, courts have found multiple doctors guilty of overprescribing the substances and creating addicts.
In an effort to help quell the problem, governments at all levels are going after the manufacturers in civil lawsuits. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is holding doctors accountable for deaths and other harm through criminal charges. But prosecutors may face a new legal roadblock when pursuing these cases.
The Changing Tide
On June 27, the US Supreme Court decided in a 9-0 ruling to adjust the requirements for pressing charges of opioid distribution against physicians, according to Reuters. Now, attorneys must show the intent of a doctor was malicious — or that they knew they weren’t justified in their decision — to get a conviction.
The case, Xiulu Ruan v. United States, involved Xiulu Ruan and Shakeel Kahn, who argued jurors in their situation weren’t considering why the doctors had prescribed the drugs, which was unfair. The plaintiffs said the criteria took away the chance for a defense to include the thought processes and mindsets leading to different treatment choices. In their cases, the prosecutor merely had to show excessive prescribing of substances, which was only half of the story. The other side shows intense suffering many of these physicians sought to relieve.
The justices agreed with this assessment of unfairness. They decided prosecutors not only needed to show a doctor prescribed excessive amounts of addictive drugs, but also that the defendant did so with a devious objective. A physician who thought he or she was doing something good for patients cannot be guilty of the distribution crimes because the justices said the intent is a foundation for a conviction.
Effects of the Ruling
In light of the High Court’s decision, some doctors are pulling out of plea agreements to go to trial in hopes they can skirt the charges, CBS News reported. Others are seeking post-conviction motions asking for new trials, acquittals, and sentencing delays. For instance, one case discussed by CBS News focused on Dr. Nelson Onaro, who previously admitted to writing illegal prescriptions for patients. However, he reportedly decided to change his plea in July, as he argued that he only made the choices he did with the best interest of his patients in mind.
Attorney David Rivera was quoted by the outlet explaining the change will help prescribers who did distribute with good intentions but should allow for the proper prosecution of those running pill mills.
The Supreme Court hopes to have drawn a line between the two. The ruling reflected the need to set boundaries and avoid convicting doctors who were as much victims in the situation as their patients.
What do you think? Was the Supreme Court decision the right one, or do you think it could have consequences down the line?
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