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January 19, 2007 - Associated Press (US)

Disabled Man Appeals Drug Trafficking Conviction To Supreme Court

By Bill Kaczor, AP

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A wheelchair-bound man who obtained large amounts of prescription drugs to control severe pain should not have been convicted of being a drug trafficker, his lawyers argued in papers filed Friday with the Florida Supreme Court.

They contend prosecutors and two lower courts misapplied the state's drug trafficking law to Richard Paey, now serving a 25-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, although there was no evidence he sold or distributed the painkillers.

The state has 20 days to respond to Paey's request that the Supreme Court accept his appeal of a 2-1 ruling by the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

The appellate judges sustained his conviction and sentence in December but expressed sympathy for Paey, suggesting he seek clemency from the governor.

The Pasco County man's case has had a high profile since being featured on "60 Minutes" and in other national media last year.

Florida law classifies the possession of large amounts of controlled substances as trafficking regardless of whether there's evidence it was sold or distributed.

Paey's lawyers wrote that the justices have jurisdiction in part because the 2nd District misconstrued a 1981 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the law. In that case, the high court wrote the minimum mandatory penalty should apply "from the importer-organizer down to the pusher on the street."

The appellate court made no distinction between drugs that might arguably be sold on the street and those possessed exclusively for medical use, wrote Paey's lawyers, Robert W. Attridge Jr. and John P. Flannery II.

They quoted dissenting District Judge James H. Seals who wrote that applying the trafficking law to Paey was "beyond logical limits" of the statute and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling saying a state cannot punish someone "for being addicted to narcotics."

"In this case, if this statute is valid, then the state may punish a person for being a chronic pain patient, that is, for having a disease, and for possessing and using the medication necessary for his treatment," the lawyers wrote.

Paey, a former lawyer and father of three, injured his back in a 1985 car crash and suffers from multiple sclerosis.

He said only large amounts of strong narcotics quelled his pain.

Prosecutors argued he forged prescriptions to get so many pills that he had to be selling them.

Paey said he got undated prescription forms from a New Jersey doctor because Florida physicians were reluctant to prescribe drugs in the amounts he required.

State Attorney Bernie McCabe said Paey had only himself to blame because he could have avoided prison by taking one of several plea deals prosecutors had offered.

In the Supreme Court filing, his lawyers noted Seals wrote the plea offers compounded the absurdity of charging Paey with trafficking.

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