Richard Paey lost his appeal, and so will likely spend the next 25 years in jail for self-medicating pain relievers. All parties, both prosecution and defense, agreed the painkillers were solely for his use and no drug distribution was involved. Of course, its for his own good.... somehow or other.
For most of this country's history, prison was for people being punished for hurting others. Their incarceration protected the rest of society from them. Today, though, we are increasingly filling the prisons with people whose actions affected only themselves. In particular, thousands languish in jail for petty drug possession charges, crimes that if they hurt anyone, hurt only themselves. (Drug war proponents argue that few go to jail for marijuana use. Sortof. Actually, only a small percentage of marijuana possession arrests go to jail, but there are three quarters of a million marijuana arrests every year. A small percentage of a big number is still a big number)
I am reminded of the old George Carlin joke "do you know the worst thing that can happen to a kid that smokes marijuana? He can go to jail!" I find this wholly parallel to Mr. Paey's situation. The Florida legislature thinks Mr. Paey is ruining his life by using too many painkillers for his, uh, pain. So their solution is to .. ruin his life even worse, by throwing him in the prison for the rest of his useful life. Good plan. Next up: lobotomies for people who still insist on smoking.
This is one of those tough cases made to make judges look bad. The Florida legislature bent over backwards to make sure that judges had absolutely no discretion in reducing the sentences of people like Mr. Paey. And the judges acknowledged they were beaten, and would have to let Mr. Paey's sentence stand. Where are those activist judges when you need them? Well, there was one in the dissent:
With no competent proof that [Paey] intended to do anything other
than put the drugs into his own body for relief from his persistent and
excruciating pain, the State chose to prosecute him and treat him as a
trafficker in illegal drugs. Instead of recognizing the real problem
and the real behaviors that led to his real crimes and holding him
appropriately accountable, the State decided to bring out the artillery
designed to bring down the drug cartels....
The sentence in this
case for a lone act"”the mere possession of unlawfully obtained medicine
for personal use"”is illogical, absurd, unjust, and unconstitutional...
suggest that it is cruel for a man with an undisputed medical need for
a substantial amount of daily medication management to go to prison for
twenty-five years for using self-help means to obtain and amply supply
himself with the medicine he needed. I suggest it is cruel for
government to treat a man whose motivation to offend sprang from urgent
medical problems the same as it would treat a drug smuggler motivated
to obtain personal wealth and power at the expense of the misery
his enterprise brings to others. I suggest that it is unusual,
illogical, and unjust that Mr. Paey could conceivably go to prison for
a longer stretch for peacefully but unlawfully purchasing 100
oxycodone pills from a pharmacist than had he robbed the pharmacist at
knife point, stolen fifty oxycodone pills which he intended to sell to
children waiting outside, and then stabbed the pharmacist.
Update: Radley Balko has more stories about ridiculous drug sentencing. He also has comments on Paey's case:
I'd add only a few of things to Jacob's post
on Richard Paey's horrible story below. First, Paey's 25-year sentence
stems from two troubling decisions on the part of the prosecutor.
Prosecutor McCabe threw the book at Paey because, (1) he refused to
admit he's an addict (and he wasn't, any more than a diabetic is
"addicted" to insulin), and (2) because he'd done nothing wrong, he insisted on his constitutional right to a jury trial. The latter is an absurdity that often creeps up in a modern criminal justice system so rife with plea bargaining. Charge stacking"and overcharging, combined with the possibility that you could even get extra time even for the charges you're acquitted of, mean that insisting on exercising your right to a trial is usually going to cost you.
Second, as I noted a few months ago,
when police apprehended this paraplegic, frail man -- along with his
wife and two kids -- they brought the SWAT team in full paramilitary
And third, why after Paey talked with New York Times columnist John Tierney
did prison officials moved him to a higher-security prison, several
hours from his family? Paey says it's because a guard complained
about what he said to Tierney, and was punished. If that isn't true,
it'd be interesting to hear the official explanation for
suspiciously-time decision to move Paey to a higher-security facility.