Premeditated Murder Without the Premeditation—or the Murder


On Wednesday ABC's Nightline explored the drug war's impact on pain treatment, focusing on two men I've written about, both of whom received 25-year mandatory minimum sentences for "drug trafficking": Richard Paey, a Florida man accused of improperly obtaining narcotics to treat his chronic pain, and Virginia pain doctor William Hurwitz, who was convicted based on his prescriptions for patients who were selling the drugs on the black market. If it seems strange that you can be imprisoned for drug trafficking without actually engaging in drug trafficking, consider the case of Florida physician Denis Deonarine, who is on trial for first-degree murder even though he plainly did not murder anyone.

Rather, Deonarine prescribed OxyContin to a patient, Michael Labzda, who died after crushing and snorting the pills as a chaser to at least two sixpacks of beer and an overdose of Xanax. Denoarine may have been a sloppy doctor (he concedes he was bad at keeping records), but he clearly is not guilty of homicide, let alone premeditated murder. You could call this a case of negligent homicide, but only in the sense that Labzda's own negligence led to his death.

[Thanks to Harry Rose for the link.]


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  1. Brilliant. By that logic, next time some dumb frat boy dies after downing an entire fifth of vodka in ten minutes, we can arrest for murder the liquor-store owner who sold him the bottle.

  2. Whatever the merits of the case, what a crazy name. “Deonarine” — he sounds like a drug himself.

  3. I’m not familiar with Florida law, but “first degree murder” might encompass the charge known as “felony murder” in other jurisdictions. In felony murder you can be charged with murder for the death of someone in connection with the commission of another felony (e.g., robbing a bank). As I’m sure that some of the drug charges in this case are probably felonies, that might account for the first degree murder charge even in the absence of premeditation.

  4. Hmm… I don’t get it – if our judicial branch is made up of dope smoking liberal activists, why are they so hard on the drug users/traffickers/whatever?

  5. I should add that I don’t agree with the charges. I’m merely pointing out another possible basis for the first degree murder charge besides premeditation.

  6. 100 years from now, the kids will look up “War On Drugs” on some Wikipedia-esque database, and the definition will go something like this:

    “War On Drugs”: a misguided government crusade against various psychoactive substances that lasted from the early 20th century well into the 21st. While its blind struggle to save people from themselves claimed many lives and livelihoods, perhaps the the most eggregious offenses were those against logic, rational thought, and common sense. At its worst, this irrationality resulted in doctors being convicted of first-degree murder because their patients abused their prescription drugs, and entire families being incarcerated for life for not turning in a relative for marijuana use.

    In the end, which experts estimate to be in the mid 2060’s, the Drug War simply imploded: with 79% of the country in prison on drug charges, the economy collapsed and tax revenue plummeted. Finally, after an explosive, riotous decade, the last beaurocrat stragglers were forced to abandon their puritan utopianism, and the DEA was abolished. Since that violent end to the War, the economy has flourished, due in no small part to the thousands of drug warriors who now engage in actual productive activity.

  7. Burns said that when OxyContin — a narcotic used to treat moderate to severe pain — came on the market in the late 1990s, Deonarine’s practice morphed into a pill mill.

    This is laughable bullshit. I switched to alternative medicines because all MD offices were pill mills, well before the late 90’s. When I watch primetime TV, I see nothing but pill pushing commercials. I won’t go as far as blaming society for this man’s death, but I will say that singling out this one doctor is ludicrous! Should the FDA be charged with murder for approving celebrex? Maybe the FDA should be charged with drug trafficking for approving oxycontin!

  8. Evan,
    Why don’t you go update the WoD entry in Wikipedia yourself. 🙂

  9. Evan-

    What makes you think that the war on drugs will ever end?

  10. Evan has penned a nice definition, but society needs to stop thinking of war is a model for moving itself in the right direction. And that won’t happen until people stop believing government is God’s Salvation Army.

  11. “Evan- What makes you think that the war on drugs will ever end?”

    Evan thinks this, I suspect, because he thinks the war on drugs is a a misguided government crusade, a blind struggle to save people from themselves. He believes it will ultimately claim many lives and livelihoods, with perhaps the the most eggregious offenses being those against logic, rational thought and common sense. He sees this irrationality resulting in doctors convicted of first-degree murder and entire families incarcerated for not turning in relatives.

    These factors lead him to believe that by the mid-2060s, the drug war will simply implode, with 79% of the country in prison on drug charges, the economy collapsing and tax revenue plummeting. He foresees an explosive, riotous decade that forces the last beaurocrat stragglers to abandon their puritan utopianism and abolish the DEA.

    In other words, it seems your question was already answered by Evan’s post itself.

  12. Finally, after an explosive, riotous decade, the last beaurocrat stragglers were forced to abandon their puritan utopianism, and the DEA was abolished.

    Not to nitpick too much, but this is simply far too optimistic. Even after the feds ended Prohibition, do you really think that all of those Revenoors were given a pink slip, a pat on the head, and told to get a real job?

    Not on your life. Those treasury agents weren’t idle for too long before Washington put them to work enforcing the newly enacted National Firearms Act.

  13. Of course it’s optimistic, geek. do I really think things will happen that way? is life ever simple enough to sum up in 2 short paragraphs? no. but it’s my fantasy, so I’ll be as optimistic as I want. even though I’ll likely be dead by the time my good times roll on in, which isn’t too optimistic at all.

  14. Evan,

    That was brilliant! Throw in a narrative about the rise of religious zealotry in government, and you’ve probably got it nailed.

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