New York Court Affirms Doctor’s Manslaughter Conviction after Patient’s Overdose

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York manslaughter case discussing whether the evidence presented by the prosecution was legally sufficient to sustain the defendant’s conviction for manslaughter. Ultimately, the court concluded that the jury’s decision to convict the defendant, given the evidence, was proper. Thus, the court affirmed the conviction.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was a board-certified doctor in anesthesiology and pain management. The defendant operated a practice in Queens, which the prosecution characterized as a “pill mill” in which the defendant would see patients complaining of pain and prescribe medication without verifying the source of the pain or ordering any diagnostic tests. The defendant only accepted cash and charged extra for higher doses of opioid medication.

Two of the defendant’s patients died while overseas, from a combination of oxycodone and alprazolam. Both men filled prescriptions, written by the defendant, for these medications shortly before their death. Pills containing both medications were found on the men’s bodies after their death.

Among other offenses, the defendant was charged with several crimes, including manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and criminal sale of a prescription. The defendant was found guilty at a jury trial, and he filed an appeal as to the manslaughter conviction. In his appeal, the defendant argued 1.) he could not be convicted of any homicide offense for providing controlled substances that resulted in an overdose death, and 2.) the evidence presented was legally insufficient to sustain his conviction for manslaughter.

The court rejected each of the defendant’s issues on appeal. First, the court noted that there is no basis to hold that a defendant cannot be prosecuted for manslaughter based on the sale of an illegal drug that results in an overdose death. The court held that, as long as the prosecution meets each of the elements of the offense, the conviction is proper.

Next, the court went on to consider whether the evidence was legally sufficient in this case to uphold the conviction. The court held that the defendant was at least “reckless” as it pertained to the operation of his practice. The court noted that the defendant would typically give patients whatever medication they requested, as long as they could pay. Additionally, the defendant’s practice of only accepting cash, and charging more for higher doses of medication indicated that he understood the risks involved to his patients. The court also held that there was legally sufficient evidence to show that the defendant’s actions constituted the legal cause of the victims’ deaths.

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