In a stunning reversal of two Courts of Appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned their decisions in prosecutions of physicians who were denied a full good-faith defense in connection with their prescription of pain medications. One of the physicians had been sentenced to 21 years in prison, while the other physician received a 25-year sentence.
The Supreme Court agreed with the position taken in the amicus brief filed by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), which urged allowance of a good-faith defense. “Physicians should not be placed in a Catch-22 of denying patients pain relief or facing decades in prison if prosecuted for it,” stated AAPS General Counsel Andrew Schlafly.
“Lengthy incarceration without proving criminal intent is tyrannical,” states the AAPS amicus brief in Ruan v. United States, No. 20-1410. “A 21-year imprisonment for medicating pain deters all physicians against fully treating patients who suffer.”
On Monday the Supreme Court held that “the Court of Appeals in both cases evaluated the jury instructions under an incorrect understanding of” the requirement of proof of criminal intent by the physicians. The Supreme Court concluded that “the Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knowingly or intentionally acted in an unauthorized manner.”
This ruling reversed the decision of the 11th Circuit in the Ruan case and the 10th Circuit in Kahn v. United States, No. 21–5261.
“It is rare for the Supreme Court to simultaneously reverse the decisions of two Courts of Appeals,” Mr. Schlafly observes. “Perhaps the shocking sentences without proof by the government of criminal intent by the defendants compelled the Supreme Court to take its extraordinary action,” he added. “The Justices unanimously agreed that this process for punishing physicians went too far and needed to be reined in.”
Next the Courts of Appeals receive these cases back on remand in an opportunity for them to correct their errors.
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is a national organization representing physicians in all specialties since 1943. Its motto is omnia pro aegroto (everything for the patient).