While it may seem like a technicality, the specific section of a Florida criminal law under which a person is charged can make a huge difference in the outcome of the case. Prosecutors are required to be precise in charging individuals with crimes, and the failure to do so may result in those charges being dropped, dismissed or reduced. This is particularly true in drug cases, where the amount of drugs in question often determines the severity of any punishment. In State v. Sanchez, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals explains how charging precision is also important in prescription drug trafficking cases involving medical professionals.
Ms. Sanchez, a licensed medical assistant and nurse practitioner, was charged with nine drug trafficking and conspiracy offenses. Prosecutors alleged that Sanchez knowingly sold various prescription drugs, including oxycodone, to people by using prescriptions “written in bad faith and not in the course of professional practice.”
At trial, a debate arose as to whether Sanchez should be charged under Section 893.135(1)(c), Florida Statutes, or Section 893.13(8). Section 893.135(1)(c) applies to any person who knowingly traffics in various drugs, with an exception for medical practitioners who prescribe the drugs in good faith and as part of their practice. Violations range up to first degree felonies, based on the amount of drugs involved. Section 893.13(8) applies specifically to practitioners and makes it unlawful to knowingly make false statements or engage in fraud in order to help someone get the drugs or to write a prescription solely for the purpose of making money. Violations under this statute are considered third degree felonies.
The state charged Sanchez with violating Section 893.135(1)(c), arguing that she didn’t qualify as a practitioner under the relevant law. The trial judge disagreed and dismissed the charges, finding that the State should have charged Sanchez as a practitioner under Section 893.13(8).
Reversing the trial court’s decision, the Fourth District said the plain language of the practitioner definition didn’t encompass medical assistants and registered nurses. Specifically, the law defines a “practitioner” as a duly licensed physician, dentist, veterinarian, osteopathic physician, naturopath or podiatrist who holds a valid federal controlled substance registry number. “Clearly, had the legislature wanted to include licensed medical assistant or nurse within the definition of ‘practitioner,’ it would have done so,” the court said. “Since appellee is not a ‘practitioner’ under the statutory definition, section 893.05(1), which applies only to practitioners, would not apply.”
Florida is a prime area for drug trafficking and the penalties for a drug trafficking conviction can range anywhere from several years to life in prison and include heavy fines. If you are facing a prescription drug trafficking charge in Florida, it is essential to have an experienced, knowledgeable attorney who can effectively defend your rights. The South Florida prescription drug lawyers at Anidjar & Levine can help you achieve the best results possible. Call us toll-free at 800-747-3733 or fill out and submit our online Contact Us form to schedule a free, confidential consultation with an experienced South Florida criminal defense attorney.
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