United States v. Joel Smithers, No. 19-4761 (4th Cir. 2024)Annotate this Case
The case involves Joel Smithers, who was a doctor of osteopathy and was convicted on 861 counts associated with his opioid prescription practices. He was sentenced to a total of 480 months in prison. Smithers was charged under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), which makes it unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled substance without authorization. Authorization is defined by Drug Enforcement Agency regulations as a prescription issued for a legitimate medical purpose by an individual practitioner acting in the usual course of his professional practice. Following his conviction, the Supreme Court in Ruan v. United States clarified the mens rea required to convict someone of unauthorized dispensing or distributing of a controlled substance. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that, in light of the Ruan decision, Smithers' jury instructions were incorrect, and the errors were not harmless. Therefore, the court vacated the convictions and remanded the case to the district court for a new trial.