WASHINGTON (CN) - The 6th Circuit must re-evaluate verdicts that put a drug-dealing doctor away for four consecutive life sentences, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.
Paul Volkman obtained both a medical degree and a doctorate in pharmacology from the University of Chicago. Lacking malpractice insurance and a job in 2003 after a spate of legal woes, Volkman took a job at Tri-State Health Clinic, a cash-only practice that saw 18 to 20 patients a day, dispensing a high volume of pain medication.
With local pharmacies unwilling to dispense the clinic's prescriptions on the basis of improper dosing, Volkman opened a dispensary in the clinic.
After the feds raided the clinic, and Volkman was fired, a grand jury indicted various officials with the practice including Volkman for a series of charges.
Volkman, who saw 12 patients die during his less than two years at the clinic, additional charges of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance leading to death.
An Ohio jury convicted Volkman on four such counts, plus other charges, for which he was sentenced to four consecutive life terms. Those sentences were to be served concurrently with the 20 years he got other charges.
The 6th Circuit affirmed last year, but the Supreme Court summarily vacated that decision Monday, citing its Jan. 27, 2014, decision Burrage v. United States.
In Burrage, the high court tossed out a conviction against a dealer whose heroin was one of many drugs in the system of a dead addict.
Joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Samuel Alito wrote separately to emphasize that Volkman is hardly off the hook
"In short, nothing in today's order should be understood as suggesting that petitioner is entitled to acquittal," Alito wrote. "Petitioner's convictions should be affirmed if the Sixth Circuit finds that the evidence from trial - 'considered in the light most favorable to the prosecution' - shows that a rational jury could have found as this jury, in fact, did. The court's order, moreover, has no bearing on petitioner's other convictions for conspiracy to unlawfully distribute a controlled substance, unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, maintaining a drug-involved premises, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offense."
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