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The Collective
Friday, July 27, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the St. Petersburg Times: Freed man still in limbo

Mark O’Hara left jail without handcuffs Wednesday, two years after he went to prison and one week since an appeals court ordered him a new trial.

He was serving a 25-year sentence for having 58 Vicodin pills in his bread truck. Jurors weren’t told that it is legal to possess the drug with a prescription, which he had.

[…]

Tampa airport police arrested O’Hara in August 2004 after they found the hydrocodone and a small amount of marijuana in his illegally parked and unattended bread truck.

He refused plea agreements from prosecutors before trial, one for three years in prison. Instead, jurors heard from two doctors who said they had been treating O’Hara since the early 1990s for pain related to gout and auto accident injuries.

Prosecutors did not contend that O’Hara, who went to prison in the 1980s for cocaine trafficking, sold any of the 80 Vicodin pills he had been prescribed in the eight months before his arrest. Under the law, simply possessing the quantity of pills he had constitutes trafficking.

This case underscores the patently absurd nature of our drug laws. Setting aside anything else, how could we get to the point where possession of 58 Vicodin pills could in any way be sufficient grounds for a 25-year jail sentence? As it stands the man has already spent two years in jail for drugs which he had a prescription, not to mention the personal cost:

He sold two condos, his car and his bread business to pay for the appeal. But the state took the proceeds, according to family friend Eric Mastro, to pay toward the $500,000 fine that came with his conviction.

This is an example of the abuse of state power that has grown out of an unhealthy societal fear of drugs. Such examples also point to why I am extremely concerned about, and often quite critical of, many of the anti-terrorism policies that have emerged since 9/11. If we are at a point in the drug war that a guy can lose two years of his freedom and over $500,000 in assets for having 58 painkiller he acquired legally, how far will our fear over terrorism allow us to fuel the power of the state?

h/t: Radley Balko at Hit and Run.

Sphere: Related Content

Filed under: War on Drugs, Criminal Justice | |

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