John Tierney has a New York Times article about Richard Paey, sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison for drug trafficking.
Actually, the prosecutors in the case never proved that he was selling drugs. The law they used simply defines possession of an ounce or more of illegal drugs as trafficking. The police watched him for quite a while, but they never caught him selling drugs.
His drugs weren’t really illegal, either. He had Percocet (oxycodone), Lortab (hydrocodone), and Valium (diazepam). Apparently he filled prescriptions for 400 pills per month. That’s about 13 pills per day, or each pill taken 4 times daily, which isn’t really a whole lot. It’s especially not a lot when you consider that Richard Paey has a serious back injury from a car accident 20 years ago. He also has multiple sclerosis. He’d been receiving this kind of medication from his doctor in New Jersey.
So why the problem? It appears Paey didn’t actually have a prescription for all the drugs he was getting. He had recently moved to Florida and apparently had trouble finding a doctor who would give him the medication he needed, so he forged prescriptions from his previous doctor.
Well, he says he didn’t forge the prescriptions, but the jury didn’t believe him. This was really the major factual dispute. If he had a prescription, he’d be free and clear.
Let’s assume the jury got it right. The worst you can say about Richard Paey is that he became addicted to medication he was taking legally for his pain and used illegal means to obtain more of the same medication. For that crime, the State of Florida is sending a guy with a serious back injury and MS to jail for 25 years.
Oh, did I mention that Paey is in a wheelchair? Did I also mention that Richard Paey is married and has three children?
Finally, did I mention that he was arrested in March 1997 and it took until April 2004 to convict him because the first trial ended in a mistrial and the second verdict was thrown out by a judge? That’s right, the prosecutor went to trial three times to throw a wheelchair-bound father of three in jail for fake prescriptions for pain medication.
They offered him plea bargains for a lot less time, but he refused to plead guilty. Reason magazine has this:
The prosecutors, who finally obtained the draconian sentence that even they concede Paey does not deserve, say it’s his fault for insisting on his innocence. “It’s unfortunate that anyone has to go to prison, but he’s got no one to blame but Richard Paey,” Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis told the St. Petersburg Times. “All we wanted to do was get him help.”
Got that? The State’s Attorney’s office, which could have dropped the charges at any time, is saying this is all Richard Paey’s fault. They say he should have taken their deal. (Wife-beaters everywhere think exactly the same way. “If she just did what I told her, I wouldn’t have to beat her!”)
Actually, the “he’s got no one to blame but [himself]” line is somewhat suggestive. If the prosecutors had just put away a guy who committed a real crime—one with a victim, say—they wouldn’t be blaming him, they’d be taking credit for themselves.
Paey’s wife has explained that he didn’t want to take the deal because he was afraid that with a conviction for illegal drugs, he would have trouble getting his pain medication.
While he’s in jail, that turns out not to be a problem. His jailhouse doctors have got him on a steady flow of morphine. It’s the best pain relief he’s ever had.
Richard Paey sums it up this way:
“We’ve become mad in our pursuit of drug-law violations,” he said. “Generations to come will look back and scarcely believe what we’ve done to sick people.”
(Hat tip: Public Defender Dude.)
Update: Something wonderful happened.