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February 12, 2006 - Tampa Tribune (FL)

Column: That Plea Deal Doesn't Look So Bad Now

By Daniel Ruth

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

It has probably dawned upon Richard Paey by now that he's not sitting in prison because he is a dubiously convicted dreaded drug trafficker.

He's sitting -- literally, in a wheelchair -- behind bars because he annoyed the law and the law won.

Paey's case became something of a national cause celebre after his theater of the absurdist case showed up in the St. Petersburg Times and later in a "60 Minutes" segment a few weeks ago exposing the insanity of mandatory sentencing guidelines and the dangerous pettiness of prosecutors.

Since a 1985 car accident, Paey has suffered excruciating back pain, exacerbated by the onset of multiple sclerosis.

And thus it was that Paey began accumulating large stocks of painkillers, stuff like Percocet and Vicodin, to relieve the agony.

Indeed, if any of you of have suffered chronic back pain and/or sciatica, you can probably relate to Paey's predicament.

Sealed Fate

In 1997, Pasco County sheriff's deputies raided Paey's home and confiscated several hundred pills.

The former lawyer was subsequently charged with drug trafficking, even though there was no evidence presented at Paey's 2004 trial that he had sold drugs.

As well, although Paey was accused of forging prescriptions, no evidence on that charge was substantiated in court.

Still, a jury convicted Paey on 15 counts of prescription forgery, possession of a controlled substance and drug trafficking, and the father of three was sent to the slammer for 25 years.

A few days ago, the 2nd District Court of Appeal heard arguments to overturn Paey's sentence on a number of grounds, including the point that sending a man to prison for a quarter of a century simply because he was in the throes of incredible pain constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

But you also could make a case that Paey sealed his own fate when he rejected various plea deals that would have set him free, persisting instead in making the argument that he was innocent.

As the case wound its way though the legal system, Paey was offered plea bargains that would have kept him out of prison, his wife, Linda, told The Associated Press.

Running Puppies

After all, Paey was hardly the Pablo Escobar of Sacroiliacs. He wasn't a criminal. He wasn't running puppies with smack sewn into their stomachs across the border.

Paey was simply a guy with a lot of hurt sitting in a wheelchair.

There's a fair point to be made that any time the state offers a defendant an opportunity to take a plea deal there's a tacit recognition perhaps the case wasn't that strong to begin with - such as lack of evidence or questionable testimony.

It's not unreasonable to assume the badges knew Paey wasn't a drug desperado, that perhaps the plea deal was little more than a face- saving effort on the part of embarrassed law enforcement to avoid sending a handicapped man in a wheelchair to prison.

Alas, Paey was stubborn in insisting upon his innocence, and now he is a convicted felon.

As well, this case speaks to the handcuffs placed on judges in being obligated to follow mandatory sentencing guidelines -- even when the defendant standing (make that sitting) before the bench has no business going to prison.

The irony, of course, is that the inmate has been fitted with a taxpayer-funded morphine pump, providing even more intense drug relief from pain than anything Paey was ingesting outside of prison.

Gracious, who is really the "trafficker" in this case?

February 16, 2006 - Tampa Tribune (FL)

End Mandatory Sentencing

By John Chase

Regarding "That Plea Deal Doesn't Look So Bad Now" (Nation/World, Feb. 12):

Dan Ruth is right. Richard Paey is in prison because he offended the law and the law won.

The Paey case is about power that mandatory sentencing statutes have shifted from the judge and jury to the prosecutor. The old joke about grand juries, indictments and ham sandwiches could be rewritten about prosecutors, convictions and terminal patients. Our laws are written broadly to give prosecutors latitude in applying them for the public good. This did not happen in Paey's case.

The only possible good that can come out of this is to prevent a recurrence. Either get rid of mandatory sentencing laws or stop funding prosecutors to go after legitimate pain patients and their doctors. And send Richard Paey home with assurance that the law won't come after his doctor(s) for giving the relief he needs.

John Chase, Palm Harbor

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