Hurwitz Trial Update


New York Times science columnist John Tierney reports that the jury in the second federal drug trafficking trial of Virginia pain doctor William Hurwitz deliberated for a third day yesterday. One hopeful sign: On Friday the jurors asked for a definition of acting "beyond the bounds of medical practice," a crucial component of the crimes with which Hurwitz is charged. Hurwitz defense lawyer Richard Stauber explains:

The judge in the Hurwitz case instructed the jury that a doctor acts "beyond the bounds of medical practice" when he knowingly and intentionally engages in illicit drug trafficking as conventionally understood and when he knowingly and intentionally issues prescriptions for recreational drug abuse. This is essentially verbatim from the Supreme Court, and a pretty good instruction for Dr Hurwitz. We shall see.

This standard is notably stricter than the one applied in Hurwitz's original trial, according to which a physician can be guilty of drug trafficking even if he thinks he is practicing good medicine. A federal appeals court rejected that reading of the law when it overturned Hurwitz's conviction, which had resulted in a 25-year prison sentence.

Tierney, who has a column in today's Times that describes how Hurwitz attracted desperate patients who could not get adequate pain treatment elsewhere, also notes the dilemma in which Hurwitz found himself when patients tested positive for illegal drugs. According to the government, such a "red flag" should result in refusal of pain treatment. Yet Hurwitz, unlike the DEA, recognized that even illegal drug users can suffer from severe chronic pain.