A Small Victoryby Stephen Littau
If anyone has any doubts about whether or not the war on (some) drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines turn otherwise law abiding citizens into criminals, look no further than the injustice Richard Paey suffered in the State of Florida. To make a long story short: Paey received serious injuries in a car accident, his doctor prescribed pain medication, Paey moves to Florida, Paey could not find a doctor who would renew his prescriptions, Paey forges prescriptions to relieve his pain, Paey is arrested, convicted, and receives a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 ½ years.
Everyone, including judges, acknowledged the traffic accident victim was using the pills for debilitating pain. And since his incarceration, prison doctors have hooked him up to a morphine drip, which delivers more narcotics in about two days than he was convicted of trafficking.
That’s right: the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for “drug trafficking” tied the judges’ hands. A strict interpretation of the Florida law meant this wheelchair bound “criminal” required this harsh sentence. The only hope for Richard Paey would be to receive a commuted sentence or a pardon from the governor; a very unlikely scenario.
But that unlikely scenario became a reality today when Florida Governor Charlie Crist gave Richard Paey a full pardon—a development which went beyond his own legal team’s request to commute his sentence. Richard Paey was wheeled out of prison by a prison guard a free man with all of his civil rights restored!
The state’s parole commission recommended denying clemency for Paey, who was only seeking to have his prison sentence commuted. But after his lawyer, wife and four children wept and pleaded for Paey’s release, Crist and the Cabinet went further than Paey expected by unanimously agreeing to grant him a full pardon — meaning he’ll have the right to vote and carry firearms.
They also acknowledged that the state’s drug laws might be unfair.
”This is not a pleasant case,” said Attorney General Bill McCollum, who noted that he supported mandatory-minimum sentences when he was in Congress. “Our laws are very much to blame.”
The state’s drug laws might be unfair? Gee, do ya think! Hopefully the AG’s realization of these unfair laws will extend to Florida legislators and legislators throughout the country. No fair human being could suggest that Richard Paey should serve hard time for merely relieving his pain.
But so are the prosecutors in Pasco County [to blame], said Paey’s wife, Linda Paey, who said she couldn’t understand why they zealously pursued her husband through three trials despite the widespread acknowledgement that he was a pain victim and not a drug dealer.
”I’ve changed. I no longer trust the police. I don’t trust the justice system,” she said. “Only the media got our case right.”
Crist, too, took a swipe at the prosecutors, saying the war on drugs itself isn’t just to blame in cases such as this. ”If they’re prosecuted appropriately, then justice will be done,” he said. “Obviously, this case cries out for a review of that process.”
Crist may be right in blaming the prosecutors for their overzealousness. After all, where was this overzealousness whenever former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s daughter was busted for a similar crime? Noelle Bush received nowhere near the punishment as did Richard Paey (Oh, I forgot; politicians and their families play by different rules). But prosecutorial overzealousness not withstanding; these mandatory minimum sentencing laws are subject to interpretation both by judges and prosecutors. One prosecutor might decide to file the mandatory minimum charges while another might decide not to. If the law is a bad law, there will be prosecutors who will bring the charges and judges who will rule based on their understanding of the law. Crist can further help right this wrong by pushing the Florida legislature to repeal these draconian laws.
While we may have to contend with this mandatory minimums madness for at least a little while longer, at least for one man the nightmare is over…hopefully.
Hat tip: Radley Balko