Drug Offenses

Fed’s Effort to Combat Opioid Crisis Hits Walmart, other Pharmacies

This month saw new signs that the federal government is escalating its war on the opioid epidemic. First, ProPublica reported on new developments in a lawsuit against Walmart and other companies that revealed that Walmart has been hiding that the company was previously under criminal investigation regarding its opioid dispensing practices. The lawyers representing the plaintiffs, which includes states, counties, and municipalities, filed a motion for sanctions based on Walmart’s failure to disclose this investigation, which included efforts by the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Texas to bring criminal charges before the DOJ intervened. The ProPublica includes several other examples of Walmart’s obstruction and evidentiary abuses.

On a smaller scale, the U.S. announced that a pharmacy in Charlottesville entered a settlement with the federal government regarding its violations of the Controlled Substances Act. Meadowbrook Health Services agreed to pay the U.S. $330,000 to settle federal enforcement actions revolving around allegations that the pharmacy unlawfully dispenses controlled substances on at least 33 occasions. The feds also entered into another pharmacy in Mingo County, West Virginia over similar allegations.

The latest news regarding these federal enforcement efforts suggests that we have moved beyond charging only street dealers and doctors with drug distribution offenses and that the feds are now targeting retailer pharmacies that dispense too many opioids. It’s also clear that no pharmacy will be overlooked by its size, from giant retailers like Walmart to mom and pop operations like the one in Charlottesville and Mingo County. Whether the feds will increase their efforts to pursue criminal charges against these operations, however, remains to be seen.

Click here to read the ProPublica article regarding the Walmart litigation.

Click here to read about the pharmacy in Charlottesville and Mingo County.

United States v. Johnny Benjamin, Jr. (11th Cir. May 2020)

The Court affirmed the conviction of a doctor charged with manufacturing and distributing a controlled substance analogue resulting in a woman's overdose death. The Court affirmed his conviction on the death count based on expert testimony, co-defendant testimony, and circumstantial evidence, and the Court held that the district court had sufficiently instructed the jury on scienter based on the defendant's knowledge of the identity of the substance. Nor did the trial court err in declining to investigate juror misconduct based on finding a list of "Do's and Don'ts of Jury Deliberations" in the deliberation room.

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United States v. Bernard Moore, et al. (11th Cir. March 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit rejected a number of challenges in affirming the defendants' sentences for drug trafficking and unlawful possession of firearms, holding that the district court did not plainly err in shackling the defendants during trial without stating its reasons in the record and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in interviewing jurors in camera regarding their safety concerns and summarizing those interviews for the parties. The Court also concluded that the indictments failure to allege the defendants' mens rea as required under Rehaif v. United States did not deprive the court of jurisdiction and the plain error of convicting the defendants of unlawful possession of firearm did not warrant reversal where the government would have been able to prove their knowledge.

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Fed and Ohio Law Enforcement Arrest 35 Alleged DTO Members

The DOJ announced that it had charged 35 individuals with drug conspiracy charges based on allegations that they were members of an alleged drug trafficking organization (“DTO”) in the Mansfield, Ohio area.

Through four separate indictments, the defendants are charged with distributing heroin, meth, cocaine, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, carfentanil, marijuana, oxycodone, and crack.

Click here to read the DOJ’s press release.

Click here to learn about drug conspiracy charges and the available defenses against them.

Police Departments Try to Trick Drug Offenders Using the Coronavirus

In an attempt to go after some low hanging fruit, or perhaps as a practical joke, several police departments across the country have sent out posts on social media offering to tests methamphetamine and other drugs for the presence of coronavirus.

One such post from a Florida police department advises that people who fear that their meth might be contaminated should: “Bring it by our station and we will test your batch within minutes!”

Click here to read the article at WGN9 Chicago.

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