Doctors Are Targets in “Pill Mill” and Other Prescription Drug Investigations

iStock_000010480247SmallThe cases last week of a Las Vegas doctor sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for drug trafficking and of a Henderson doctor arraigned for felony drug distribution serve as a reminder that these serious charges are not merely for cartels and street dealers. Doctors, pharmacists and other medical professionals are frequently the target of controlled substance investigations and arrests, especially with the growing popularity of recreational and nonmedical prescription drug use.

Victor Bruce, the Las Vegas doctor, was convicted in U.S. District Court of trafficking oxycodone, a popular painkiller. Oxycontin is a popular brand of the substance. Trafficking is a term that refers to the production, transportation and/or sale of controlled substances.

Bruce was accused and convicted of running what is commonly called a “pill mill.” A pill mill is a doctor’s office, clinic or other health care facility that illegally prescribed unnecessary medication to patients. Painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and codeine are common controlled substances are common substances in pill mill cases. Ambien, Adderall, Xanax and other prescription drugs may also be involved. In many cases, the medical professional is charged with distributing more than one type of drug.

Mahesh Kuthuru, a Henderson doctor running a pain management clinic, was arraigned before a U.S. Magistrate for felony drug distribution. Kuthuru is accused of selling prescriptions for painkillers, including oxycodone, morphine sulfate and methadone, when the drugs were not medically necessary.

Doctors, pharmacists and medical professionals are typical targets in pill mill cases. Doctors may write prescriptions for patients for controlled substances. They may charge patients for their services, including writing these prescriptions. However, the prescriptions must be medically necessary. In cases involving medical professionals facing drug charges, accusations are often that the doctor is writing medically unnecessary prescriptions.

Pill mill cases may result in trafficking or distribution charges, in state or federal court. If convicted of certain trafficking offenses, the medical professional could face mandatory minimum sentences. Doctors could also lose their medical license as a result of any conviction or accusation relating to selling prescriptions.

Doctors have much to lose if facing charges for controlled substance offenses, and should acquire the services of a Las Vegas drug defense lawyer as soon as they learn they are under investigation.

Supreme Court Hears Case on Whether Officer’s Mistake of Law Justifies Traffic Stop

Traffic ViolationThe U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday on Heien v. North Carolina, a case involving whether police officers can justify a traffic stop due to a reasonable belief of the law that is inaccurate. The case could have implications

In the case, an officer in North Carolina pulled over a driver who only had one brake light working. The brake light malfunction was cited as the reason for the stop. During the stop, the officer searched the car and found cocaine. The driver was charged with cocaine trafficking and cited for the broken brake light.

However, North Carolina law only requires a driver to have “a stop lamp.” It is not, therefore, against the law to driver with only one brake light working. The officer had made the stop on the basis of a mistaken belief about what the law says.

The case was appealed in state court. The appeals court found that the mistaken belief that the driver had committed a traffic violation did not warrant “objectively reasonable justification” for a traffic stop. The North Carolina Supreme Court disagreed, saying the officer’s mistake was “reasonable” and therefore justified reasonable suspicion.

The matter before the U.S. Supreme Court now is whether a perceived violation of the law can be sufficient grounds to give officers reasonable suspicion to conduct a stop. The implications of their decision could extend to whether a similar mistake could give probable cause to conduct a search or make an arrest.

If the Court rules that a mistake in law can lead to a reasonable suspicion, traffic stops would be significantly affected, as demonstrated by the case Heien is based upon. Traffic laws are complex, and it would be easy for a police officer to make a mistake about vehicle requirements or any of the other myriad laws that regulate motor vehicles and how they are operated under the law.

A traffic stop can lead to drug arrests, DUI arrests and many other criminal charges.

The implications may extend beyond traffic stops, though. Gun rights groups filed a brief siding with the defendant, in part because weapons laws are similarly technical and could lead to searches and stops based on officers’ mistakes on the law.

The case may have profound implications on police’s ability to make stops that often lead to arrests on more serious charges. According to observers, the justices seemed split on their leanings during oral arguments.

 

Nevada Considering Performance-Based Test for DUI – Marijuana

CopLightsMembers of the Nevada Legislature are currently considering changing policy for determining when a person is considered too impaired by marijuana to drive. A committee of state legislators voted in favor of moving forward with implementing performance-based tests for marijuana, instead of testing the blood or urine for metabolites and other chemicals associated with cannabis use.

Currently, Nevada Revised Statutes § 484C.110 sets policy for driving while under the influence of marijuana. Under the present law, a person is considered per se intoxicated if he or she has 10 ng per milliliter in the urine or 2 ng per milliliter in the blood for marijuana, or 15 ng per milliliter in the urine or 5 ng per milliliter in the blood for marijuana metabolite. A person with this amount of substance in his or her system is considered “per se” intoxicated, meaning he or she is intoxicated despite to which he or she has full use of his or her faculties.

The Advisory Commission of the Administration of Justice’s Subcommittee on the Medical Use of Marijuana, chaired by Sen. Tick Segerbloom of Las Vegas, voted 9-3 to request a draft modeled after the law in California. Under California law, it is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana to the extent that a person in unable to act with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary care, under similar circumstances.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, this effects-based approach has been adopted by 33 states.

The proposal would better reflect the reality of marijuana impairment. THC, the most significant impairing chemical in marijuana, does not operate in the same way as alcohol, in which BAC has a very heavy correlation with level of intoxication. Different people’s bodies process THC in different ways. People develop a tolerance to THC. It also remains in the system for a much longer time than alcohol, often long after the user stops feeling effects.

This is especially critical for the many people who use medical cannabis to treat a condition, which is legal in Nevada.  A person who ingests medical cannabis may have sufficient THC in their system to violate DUI-marijuana laws for hours or more after no longer experiencing any type of real impairment of their faculties.

The Nevada Legislature will consider changing the law during their regular 2015 session. It is expected to have some pushback from law enforcement and prosecutors.

Hydrocodone Combinations Moved Into Schedule II in Federal Controlled Substances Act

Pills2The Drug Enforcement Agency has moved hydrocodone combination products (HCPs), a popular prescription drug for managing pain, from Schedule III to more restrictive Schedule II. HCPs are combinations of hydrocodone, an opioid,  and other painkillers or substances, including acetaminophen. Hydrocodone itself has been in Schedule II since the Controlled Substances Act’s inception.

The DEA is citing a high number of overdoses from prescription painkillers as the reason behind the move. Schedule II substances have been determined to have a high potential for abuse with potential for severe physiological and/or psychological dependence. Schedule III substances have a lesser potential for abuse with moderate to low physiological and/or psychological dependence.

The decision follows the trend of the government “cracking down” on prescription drug abuse. The media has been full of horror stories in recent years of teenagers using substances available from pharmacists instead of illegal substances like cocaine and heroin.

The change means that hydrocodone combination products may be more complicated to obtain by patients. For instance, a doctor can rarely use an oral prescription for a Schedule II drug. A patient may need to just through more hoops if prescribed an HCP for pain management.

It also has implications for federal criminal law. The maximum penalty for trafficking a Schedule II substance (20 years in prison, with a fine up to $1 million) is twice the maximum for trafficking a Schedule III drug (10 years, with a fine up to $500,000).

The change only applies to cases heard in federal court. Most drug cases, including possession cases, are tried under state law. Under the Nevada Controlled Substances Act, hydrocodone combination products remain under Schedule III. However, state law on controlled substances in regards to what substances are illegal and how severe they are judge to be, with some notable exceptions, like medical marijuana.

The Board of Pharmacy may make similar findings as the DEA and move HCPs into Schedule II. Like with federal law, this has some implications on state drug law. Most drug charges in Las Vegas and Clark County are tried under state law.

Unlawful possession for sale of any Schedule III substance charges are a Category D felony for a second offense and a Category C felony for a third or subsequent offense. The same charges for a Schedule II substance are a Category C felony for a second offense and a Category B felony for a third or subsequent offense.

Whether or not this change may seem substantial, they reflect a more punitive and aggressive stance by the federal government, which often sets the trend for state governments. If you face charges for any crime relating to controlled substances in Clark County, immediately contact a Las Vegas drug defense lawyer.

Clark County successfully prosecutes first case under sex trafficking law

legsA Las Vegas man was found guilty last month of sex trafficking, marking the first conviction for the state offense. The offense of sex trafficking was created with the passage of AB 67 in 2013. Prosecuting sex trafficking has been a major focus of law enforcement in recent years, and a successful conviction is likely to herald more people facing these charges. It is critical, therefore, to understand the differences between charges relating to sex work.

Sex work, generally, is a broad term that applies to people who engage in sexual acts as a profession. Sex work crosses the legal line when it becomes prostitution. Nevada law defines prostitution as the act of engaging in “sexual intercourse, oral-genital contact, touching the sexual organs or other intimate parts for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of either person” for pay or anything of value.

Both the act of engaging in prostitution and soliciting prostitution (being a “John” or customer) are misdemeanors, unless the person involved was in a licensed brothel. There are no licensed brothels in Clark County.

Penalties are more significant for people accused of being the business of managing and recruiting prostitutes. In the past, these people, often called “pimps,” have faced charges of pandering.

Pandering remains a crime under Nevada law. If charged with pandering, a person is accused of inducing a person to engage in prostitution or to continue to engage in prostitution without engaging in physical force or the threat of physical force. The charges are a Class C felony, punishable by 1-5 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Under the new, more serious sex trafficking charges, a person who takes, places, harbors, induces, causes or compels a person into sex work using force, threats, fraud or intimidation can be convicted of a Class B felony. It is the same charge to harbor, induce, recruit, transport, obtain or maintain a sex worker knowing force, threats, fraud or intimidation to compel that person into that work.  A Class B felony is punishable by three to 10 years in prison and a fine of $10,000.

Additionally, if any sex worker involved was a child, the charges become sex trafficking, whether or not force or threats were involved. Charges are a Class A felony. If the child was between 16 and 18 years old, there is a mandatory minimum five-year sentence. For a child between 14 and 16, the mandatory minimum is 10 years. Trafficking any child sex worker younger than 14 will result in a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison under state law.

Regardless of the offense, any charge involving sex work is serious. It’s important to immediately contact a Las Vegas prostitution defense lawyer if accused.

Nevada Leads Nation By Far in Electronic Wiretapping Per Person

Using iPhone - 21209382 - SAccording to a report released this month by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, courts in Nevada authorized 38.2 electronic wiretaps for every 500,000 residents of the state in 2013. It is the highest number of wiretaps per person in the nation – more than three times the rate for the next highest state, Colorado.

Courts in Nevada authorized 213 wiretaps, or “intercept orders.” The federal U.S. District of Nevada issued 26, and state courts in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas and Henderson, issued 187, meaning the overwhelming majority of wiretaps were in the Las Vegas area. Though federal officials only actually executed one, Clark County installed 178. The wiretaps results in 725 incriminating intercepts, according to the report.

The wiretaps resulted in 134 people being arrested and 78 people being convicted in Nevada, all due to orders issued by Clark County. It is a significantly higher conviction rate than the nation, in which only 19 percent of arrests due to a wiretap resulted in a conviction.

The vast majority of these wiretaps (97 percent for the nation, 100 percent for Nevada) are for portable devices, including cell phones and digital pagers. Using a wiretap, police can listen in on a suspect’s conversations and collect evidence to be used against that person.

Every intercept order authorized in Nevada in 2013 was for a narcotics charge. Nationwide, drug offenses are the reason behind about 90 percent of wiretaps, according to an analysis of the report by the Pew Research Center.

The Pew Research Center could not confirm any reason why Nevada would be at the top of the list. However, Las Vegas law enforcement officials told the Las Vegas Review-Journal  they believed they were simply more effective at obtaining them. The Clark County District Attorney’s Office has two federally funded prosecutors who work full time on drug cases, the Review-Journal reported.

Conversations obtained by a wiretap may seem like damning evidence. However, even if obtained by a warrant (always a requirement for a wiretap), this evidence is not always admissible. To obtain an order, law enforcement must show probable cause that the suspect is committing a crime listed in the Wiretap Act, that a communication against that crime will be intercepted, and that the phone is used in connection with the offense.

Your attorney may be able to call into question the grounds on which the intercept order was obtained. If the order was wrongly obtained, all evidence obtained may be determined to be “fruit of a poisoned tree.”

Celebrate America By Knowing Your Constitutional Rights This July 4th

America the greatThe Fourth of July means there will be fireworks in the sky, barbeques in backyards and cops patrolling the streets of Las Vegas, looking for people they suspect of drunk driving. There will also be heavy police presence at the many pool parties hosted around the city, looking for people breaking the law. On this holiday, we celebrate our country. There’s no better way to celebrate it than by being familiar with the document on which it is founded: The Constitution, particularly the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments found in the Bill of Rights.

The Fourth Amendment is very important in DUI stops. The Fourth Amendments guarantees the freedom against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Supreme Court has found that this means that, in order to stop a person on the belief they are driving drunk, officers must have reasonable suspicion.

Reasonable suspicion means that there must be specific facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a crime was being committed. A person who is driving too fast, driving too slow or weaving through lanes may present reasonable suspicion of drunk driving. If prosecutors fail to show police had reasonable suspicion, however, the stop may be deemed illegal.

The Fourth Amendment is also critical for the issue of DUI tests. For most searches involving places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, a search warrant is necessary. There is no place where a person has a more reasonable expectation of privacy than their own body. To obtain blood, urine or breath, the officer must obtain either the person’s permission or a search warrant.

If you are offered the opportunity to take a DUI test, the best option is to refuse. You will be denying critical evidence against yourself.

Independence Day is a big opportunity to for hotels and casinos to promote pool parties. At the pool parties, arrests are common for drugs, open or gross lewdness, indecent exposure or other offenses. When police grab a person on suspicion of a crime at a pool party, far too often that person will forget their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

If police approach you and question you, you should assume they are seeking evidence to arrest you. Do not believe that if you are honest and confess a “minor” offense to an officer that he or she will not arrest you.

Instead, exercise your Sixth Amendment right to an attorney. Your criminal defense attorney will advise and represent you, and will protect your rights.

As you celebrate America this holiday, know the rights guaranteed to you in our founding document.

The United States Supreme Court Rules that Police Must Get a Warrant to Search Your Cell Phone

cellphonewarrantsThe United States Supreme Court ruled today that the police must obtain a search warrant before looking through your cell phone.  With continual intrusion in a person’s privacy this is a good step in the right direction of the Fourth Amendment.   Although apparently conflicted, the Supreme Court stated that a person’s cell phone today carries extensively private information on their cell phone, including documents, photos, and videos.  Because of the massive amounts of data carried on a person’s cell phone, the police should be required to get a warrant before being able to search the phone.

The Supreme Court did contemplate the possibility of remote wiping and how that might effect the need for an exigency search.  However, the Supreme Court ultimately decided that the possibility of remote wiping inherently is not enough to forgo the warrant requirements.

Even though the United States Supreme Court ruled for the protection of the Fourth Amendment, the practical matter requires that a person exercise their right to privacy.  What that means is when stopped by police or when being questioned, it is imperative that a person not consent to the search of their cell phone.  If a person gives an officer the consent to search a cell phone the officer does not need to get a warrant.  Although it can be hard to resist an officer’s strongly suggestive request for consent, do not give up your rights.  Make them get a warrant.

Las Vegas City Council Passes Limited Ban on Open Liquor Containers On Fremont Street Experience

bottles-smallOn Wednesday, Las Vegas City Council passed a ban on open glass or aluminum containers containing liquor on the Fremont Street Experience, a pedestrian mall downtown popular with tourists. The new ordinance puts most of the onus on store owners, particularly souvenir stores, who sell liquor. Store owners whose employees allow people to violate the law may face a $500 civil penalty.

The FSE ban is actually significantly watered down from the original proposal. The original proposal would have banned open containers in a 32-block area, and made it a misdemeanor offense with up to a $1,000 fine for a person to possess an open container.

Las Vegas remains a city with liberal laws surrounding alcohol. People may still carry open containers in most of the city and on the Vegas Strip (which is not within city limits). However, Las Vegas residents would be incorrect to think they cannot face legal trouble for certain actions that pertain to alcohol.

While Nevada does not contain a charge for public intoxication, it does have a charge called “breach of the peace.” This is similar to what other jurisdictions call “disorderly conduct.” Breach of the peace is a charge police and prosecutors may pursue if they believe a person is intoxicated and causing problems in public.

Under NRS § 203.010, a person is guilty of breach of the peach if he or she maliciously or willfully disturbs the peace or quiet of a neighborhood, person or family with loud or unusual noises, tumultuous and offensive conduct, threatening, quarreling, fighting or challenging people to fight. It is a misdemeanor, with penalties of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

The situation becomes dramatically different once an intoxicated person gets behind the wheel. It is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol or with a blood-alcohol content level at or above 0.08. A conviction for a first offense will result in jail time between 48 hours and six months, or 96 hours of community service, between $340 and $1,175 in fines and a 90-day suspension of driving privileges. Consequences could become harsher if the BAC is at or above 0.18 or if it is a second or subsequent offense.

A Las Vegas DUI defense lawyer can challenge the traffic stop, the DUI test, the arrest and any other matter to seek to have the charges dropped or reduced. An attorney can also help the accused maintain his or her driver’s license.

While Las Vegas may have looser laws for alcohol than most places, it is not a free-for-all on the Fremont Street Experience or anywhere else. Those in the city and surrounding area are advised to know their rights in case of a criminal accusation, including the right to an attorney.

EDC Vegas 2014 Revelers Should Be Aware of Rights On and Off Festival Grounds

Electric Daisy Carnival, Las Vegas 2014

The Electric Daisy Carnival, one of the most well-attended electronic music festivals in the world, will be at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway later this month from June 20 to June 22. The festival has a reputation as a free-wheeling event where narcotics are permitted. This is not the case.

The festival posts security guards at the doors who search people entering, and attendees should be very careful what they say to these guards. The security guards are not required to advise festival goers of their rights, and will turn people over to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Once turned over a person may face charges for drug possession, possession with intent to sell or any other relevant charge. In addition to Electric Daisy Carnival security, undercover police officers are inside the festival and are looking to arrest people, as well.

However, many people who are arrested in Las Vegas during EDC weekend are not apprehended on the grounds of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. They, instead, may be stopped on the road to and from the festival, or at one of the many parties that occur at hotels and around the area.

There are about 15 miles between the EDC grounds and the Vegas Strip, where many attendees stay. Many will drive to and from the festival. Along the way, on both North Las Vegas Boulevard and the Las Vegas Freeway (I-15), the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the Nevada Highway Patrol are likely to be posted and on the lookout for intoxicated drivers.

To pull a person over, police must have reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated or committing a crime. Speeding, driving slowly, weaving between lanes or driving recklessly may give officers cause to stop a person. Once stopped, the officer must develop probable cause in order to arrest you on the charge of DUI or any other crime. Typically an officer will ask a driver to perform standardized field sobriety tests or SFST to determine if the officer can establish probable cause for more specific testing. If the officer believes you have failed the SFSTs or has other probable cause, he will then take you to have a blood or breath tests administered to gather evidence of your intoxication. The officer will ask that you consent to a blood or breath test, he will try and scare and threaten you. It is important that you do not consent to a blood or breath test. You instruct the officer, nicely, but clearly, that you require that the officer get a warrant for any test. Do not sign any sort of consent document.

It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance, including prescription drugs. These tests are designed to determine whether any such substances are in the system of the driver. If you are asked to take a test, it is your right to refuse. In Nevada, currently, there are no consequences for your refusal. By requiring the Officer to get a warrant you avoid handing over critical evidence to prosecutors. Your Las Vegas DUI defense lawyer can seek to have charges dismissed and assist you with any DMV issues that may arise.

If police pull a person over on suspicion of DUI and finds illegal drugs or illegal weapons in the car, the driver may face charges for that.

Additionally, there are many parties that happen in and around Las Vegas during the Electric Daisy Carnival and in the week leading up to it – the week has been dubbed “EDC Week” due to its popularity. There are parties at nightclubs, hotels and at pools. Like at the festival, security guards are often on hand to pat down and check bags for these parties. If they find illegal substances, they will likely detain the person and turn them over to Las Vegas police.  Possessing even a little bit of any drug, other than marijuana, is a felony.  If you possess a larger quantity of drugs you could be looking at a felony that would be mandatory prison or even a life sentence.

Security guards and, sometimes, undercover officers may also be inside the party. They may detain or arrest people for indecent exposure, lewd conduct, drug use or any other charge.  A significant portion of arrests occur with people taking drugs in the bathroom of the clubs or pools.  So be aware of anyone watching or listening to what you do.

There are many opportunities for revelers during EDC Week and the Electric Daisy Carnival to find themselves in legal trouble. They should always be aware of their rights — most importantly, their right to a Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer who will represent and advise them.

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