American Samizdat

Wednesday, December 13, 2006. *
In 2004 a Florida jury convicted Richard Paey of drug trafficking involving at least 28 grams of the narcotic painkiller oxycodone, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years. But there was no evidence that Paey, who has suffered from severe chronic pain for two decades, planned to do anything with the pain reliever except relieve his pain. And since he was taking Percocet, a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen, the over-the-counter analgesic accounted for 98 percent of the weight used to calculate his sentence.

This penalty is both cruel and unusual; first-time offenders charged with unauthorized possession of prescription drugs typically get probation. But last week Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that Paey's punishment is not "grossly disproportionate" enough to be considered "cruel and unusual" under the Eighth Amendment or even "cruel or unusual" under the state constitution. The court nevertheless made the rare gesture of urging Paey to seek clemency from the governor, who can commute his sentence to time served (three years) and should do so as a matter of basic decency.

Today Paey, a father of three who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, receives morphine from a pump prescribed by a prison doctor. The drugs that led to his arrest in 1997 were the same ones his New Jersey doctor, Stephen Nurkiewicz, prescribed for the severe back pain that resulted from a 1985 car crash and the unsuccessful surgeries that followed: Percocet, the painkiller Lortab, and the muscle relaxant Valium.

[Article continues at link.]
posted by Trevor Blake at 8:00 AM
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