Last year, Florida pain patient Richard Paey was sentenced to a mandatory minimum 25-year prison sentence as a drug trafficker after authorities watched him roll his wheel chair from pharmacy to pharmacy seeking the massive amounts of narcotic pain relievers to make his life bearable. Tuesday, Paey was back in court to appeal his convictions and sentence in Tampa.
With the CBS News program "60 Minutes" having presented a generally sympathetic portrayal of his case the previous Sunday evening, major TV networks and the local print and broadcast press were out in force as Paey supporters and critics of law enforcement interference in the management of pain spoke out at a press conference before the hearing. Among the media organizations attending were Fox News, ABC, the Associated Press, National Public Radio, the Tampa Tribune, and the St. Petersburg Times, reported Dr. Frank Fisher, one of the speakers at the press conference.
Paey, 47, a former attorney who suffered severe back injuries in a 1985 auto accident, came to the attention of state and federal drug fighters because of the large amounts of prescription narcotics he was seeking. Prosecutors claimed Paey was obtaining so many pills he must be a drug dealer, but despite tailing him for two months, provided no evidence to that effect at trial.
A transplant from New Jersey, he had his former doctor send him undated prescriptions he used to obtain the medication he needed. Despite strong evidence the doctor perjured himself -- he said he had not authorized the prescriptions when testimony in court indicated he had -- Paey was convicted of 15 counts of forging prescriptions, unlawful drug possession, and drug trafficking and sentenced to the minimum sentence of 25 years.
At Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal in Tampa Tuesday, Paey's attorney, John Flannery, told a three-judge panel the 25-year mandatory minimum sentence amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. He also charged prosecutorial misconduct. Prosecutors let the New Jersey doctor testify even though they knew he was lying, Flannery said. Noting that Paey is getting relief via a morphine pump in prison, Flannery added, "It's amazing to me that the Florida prison understands what the Florida prosecutor does not," he said.
Defending the conviction was Florida Assistant Attorney General John Klawikofsky, who said evidence seized from Paey's house was tantamount to "a little prescription factory." Florida law dictates that someone in possession of a large number of pills is considered to be trafficking, Klawikofsky added.
At the pre-hearing press conference, the Pain Relief Network's Reynolds put the Paey case in the larger context of the under-treatment of chronic pain in America and the role of intrusive law enforcement in exacerbating the problem. "This attack on Richard Paey is an attack on millions of Americans," said Reynolds. "More than 55 million Americans suffer from serious pain and truly require medication to work and function. But studies reveal that the worse the pain, the harder it is to get pain medicines. People in pain are now feeding the Drug War prosecutorial machine. Richard's case," Reynolds said, "is just one example of the outrageous injustices visited upon people in pain."
There is no date set yet for a ruling on the appeal.