Pubdate: Wed, 26 Sep 2007
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2007 The Tribune Co.
Author: Robert Batey
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)


The recent release of Richard Paey by Florida's Clemency Board - the
governor, chief financial officer, agriculture commissioner and
attorney general - is a cause for rejoicing.

Paey, a chronic pain patient, had been sentenced to 25 years in prison
for "trafficking" in pain medication, even though there was never any
evidence that he sold or even gave his drugs to any other human being.

Paey's 25-year mandatory minimum - the sentencing judge had no
discretion - was triggered simply by the fact that he was found in
possession of more than 28 grams of pain medication (about an ounce)
without a valid prescription. The Clemency Board overturned this
ludicrous sentence.

But it would be wrong to conclude that because of what the Clemency
Board in Richard Paey's case, "the system worked"  The law that
required a  25-year sentence for Paey is part of a dysfunctional legal
system, which the Florida Legislature must change. Paey's case shows
that the need to amend Florida's drug trafficking statute, which has
over 20 draconian mandatory minimums in it, all triggered by simple
possession. That's right: One can be guilty of "trafficking" without
ever transferring the drugs to anybody else.

The statute ought to be junked in its entirety, so that judges would
have discretion, under Florida's sentencing guidelines, to make the
punishment fit the crime. Under other already existing laws, real drug
traffickers could still get harsh sentences, but lesser sentences
(including referral to one of Florida's drug courts) would be possible
for those who do not merit such severity.

Our legislators, however, are probably too timid to go that far, at
least not yet. So Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a national
lobbying organization I have worked with for more than 10 years, has
proposed a more modest revision of Florida's drug trafficking statute,
one that  would at least remove the ridiculous mandatory minimums that
apply to legal pain medications like those involved in Richard Paey's
case (as opposed to largely "recreational" drugs Like cocaine, which
have few medicinal uses). Our bill would also allow people who are now
serving time under a mandatory minimum sentence like Richard Paey's to
seek parole. We presented this bill to members of the Florida
Legislature before the last session, but it got nowhere. Hopefully,
the attention that Richard Paey's release should draw to Florida's
crazy drug "trafficking" statute will produce a different result in
the near future.


Robert Batey is a professor at Stetson University College of Law In
St. Petersburg, FL.   He has taught criminal law there for more than
30 years.
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