4th Circuit Reverses Conviction of "Pain Doctor"
Good news for pain doctor William Hurwitz. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned his conviction and 25 year sentence for drug-trafficking because the trial judge failed to give a "good faith" instruction to the jury.
The decision again galvanized the national debate that the Hurwitz case had
come to symbolize: whether fully licensed doctors prescribing legal medication to patients in chronic pain should be subject to prosecution if their patients abuse or sell the drugs. Patient advocate groups strongly supported Hurwitz and expressed concern that his conviction would have a chilling effect on pain doctors.
....Jurors convicted Hurwitz on 50 counts of a 62-count indictment, including conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. They acquitted him on nine counts and deadlocked on three. Hurwitz was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The text of the opinion is here(pdf).
Good faith was at the heart of Hurwitz's defense. Hurwitz did not dispute the bulk of the government's factual evidence -- that is, he did not argue that he did not prescribe the narcotics that were the basis for the charges against him. Instead, Hurwitz argued that the manner in which he used narcotics to treat chronic and debilitating pain was a medically proper approach to a difficult medical issue. By concluding that good faith was not applicable to the Â§ 841 charges and affirmatively instructing the jury that good faith was not relevant to those charges, the district court effectively deprived the jury of the opportunity to consider Hurwitz's defense.
Thus, while we recognize that the government's evidence was strong, we simply cannot conclude that the district court's error in removing good faith from the jury's consideration was harmless."
It may not be smooth sailing though for Hurwitz at his retrial. The Court also held that the good faith standard to be applied must be objective rather than subjective:
"In this case, however, we are squarely presented with the question of whether, in a Â§ 841 prosecution against a doctor, the inquiry into the doctor's good faith in treating his patients is a subjective or objective one. We believe that the inquiry must be an objective one, a conclusion that has been reached by every court to specifically consider the question."
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