Penny Spence was arrested when, after a 2005 car accident, a police officer reached into her purse and found 48 Percocet pills for which Spence did not have a prescription (Spence was not driving under the influence of the medication at the time). The total weight of controlled narcotic in the pills amounted to less than half a gram. But as was the case in the state's pursuit of Richard Paey, for purposes of charging and sentencing, Florida law counts the total weight of all the medication in which the controlled substance is contained. In this case, prosecutors threatened to charge Spence for the full 49 grams of pills in the bottle, even though they were 99 percent Tylenol.
Spence admitted at the scene she was self-medicating with the Percocet. She'd begun to suffer severe back pain after serving as the primary caretaker for her mother, who had recently died of Lou Gherig's Disease. The Percocet had originally been prescribed for her mother. Spence had no prior criminal record, and there was no evidence she has distributed the medication to anyone else.
Nevertheless, prosecutors threatened her with a 25-year sentence unless she plead to a felony. Spence didn't want to plea, because she had hopes of becoming a nurse, which she wouldn't have been able to do with a felony on her record. Prosecutors showed no mercy:
...prosecutor Daus expressed amazement that anyone would criticize the house arrest deal he offered Spence—something not all narcotics defendants receive.
"If I had said, 'She's getting 25 years in prison, there's no deal,' you'd have a good story,' " Daus said. "But I think I made her a fair deal. She would have no prison time. It shows the system does work. I think [FAMM] should be giving me an award."
Spence, he said, "just wants to have her cake and eat it too."
I first wrote about this case on my personal blog last year.
Last week, I found Spence's sister on an email forum about the
painkiller issue. Spence's sister says that because Spence feared
she'd get the same 25-year, maximum-security-prison sentence given
to Richard Paey, Spence agreed to plea no contest to drug
trafficking. For possessing less than half a gram of
Percocet controlled oxycodone without a
prescription, she was sentenced to a year of house arrest and three
years of probation. She's also now a convicted felon.
If you've ever taken a friend or family member's prescription pain medication to self-medicate, take note.