Road Riding in the Counties

My personal and business travel is taking me to more counties throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania than ever before. The local courthouse houses in the county seats are really interesting for me. The court houses — arenas of legal combat — are throw backs to more glorious days when the local big trial was the event of the year.
In the past I took for granted these architectural gems that are spread throughout the various townships and boroughs within which I practice.   Now, I seek out and explore the courthouses. Whether by car or bike, I am having fun.
This spring I bought myself a road bike. I ride ferociously around the eastern part of Pennsylvania. I have the pleasure of routinely riding through Philadelphia,  Conshohocken, Norristown, and Valley Forge Park. All are within 5-15 miles of my house.  Sometimes I ride from my house to Philadelphia and back.
A recent Saturday took me on a further ride — from West Chester to the City of Lancaster. The road ride began in West Chester and ended in Lancaster County, behind the Court House. We departed West Chester through its southern rolling-hills of Brandywine Township. We followed Brandywine Creek through East Bradford Township, Downingtown  to West Fallowfield Township. One word — marvelous.
After 90 minutes the group ride, with me at the back of the pack, entered Lancaster County. I was greeted by signs for farm fresh brown eggs, personally constructed homes, garages, sheds, and wonderful antique tractors.
Tractors, tractors, tractors. But not your ordinary tractors.  These were green, yellow and red tractors, pulled by horses. The drawn mowing tractors were hard at work, gas free, mowing lawns and fields. Some tractors were too tired to work, gathering rust. There was no worry about rubber tires rotting. Metal wheels needed no repairs.
The morning aromas changed with each turn in the road. Pungent cow, horse, pig dung awoke my sinuses.  Crushed wild blackberries and dripping vines of honeysuckles permeated homesteads. The morning dew clung to grass blades and tree branches through the Brandywine Creek bike route. Entering Lancaster and riding down Duke Street brought with it fresh bakery smells and the Lancaster County brewing Company.
In each county seat, I look for a small coffee shop. Lancaster’s Prince Street Café did not disappoint. The fresh cappuccino after a 50 mile ride awakened all of my exhausted senses. Orange juice and fresh eggs on a croissant made me even happier. The pictures below reflects the quaintness of the café and the wonderful effort the bakers and barista’s gave the Saturday morning breakfast crowd.
An unexpected joy came as I began to get ready for my drive home. Just to the west of the Prince Street Café is the Lancaster County Donuts Shop. Homemade donuts and holes are sold with every conceivable topping — as if I was in an ice cream shop — tantalized my taste buds. The sublime chocolate with vanilla cream cheese frosting carried me through the rest of my day.
I could not have been happier. Content and satisfied by a hard work out, great ride with new friends and a bulging stomach.  Blair and Clearfield counties also did not disappoint. I’ll keep you posted.

Pennsylvania’s Accepts the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act

Pennsylvania has finalized its membership in the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act.  Found at 63 P.S. §395.2, the General Assembly authorizes the Governor to execute the Interstate Compact for Medical Licensure of non-Pennsylvania based physicians.  As I wrote previously last summer, the proposal substantially strips Pennsylvania medical licensees of many due process rights.

Pennsylvania based physicians who seek licensure in member states become subject to those jurisdictions’ criminal and disciplinary process, investigations and actions.  My prior blog addresses the significant pit falls of that process.  Reviewing the definition section of the enabling legislation (which is a nationwide standard set of definitions and procedures) helps understand how and why Commonwealth Pennsylvania physicians seeking multi-state licensure are at substantial exposure to extra jurisdiction disciplinary action without the many protections of Pennsylvania’s administrative due process.

A physician’s medical license, granted by a member state to an eligible physician, is subject to this new law’s legal definitions. First and foremost is the definition of conviction of any type of criminal act. Conviction means: a finding by a court that an individual is guilty of a criminal offense through adjudication, or entry of a plea of guilt or no contest to the charge by the offender. Evidence of an entry of a conviction of a criminal offense by the court shall be considered final for purposes of disciplinary action by a member board.  Potential criminal acts — any “Offense” means: a felony, gross misdemeanor or crime of moral turpitude.

At issue for Pennsylvania and/or New Jersey doctors is the difference in criminal versus administrative matters.  A DUI in Pennsylvania is criminal versus New Jersey it is administrative.  There are many matters in Pennsylvania that result in a summary resolution, not a felony and misdemeanor conviction.  What is a gross misdemeanor?  The Act does not differentiate.  In Pennsylvania, criminal charges are brought after a  preliminary hearing.  Many states proceed by indictment.  The Act does not distinguish enrollment in a non-conviction based diversion program.  How difference states render disciplinary action based upon different standards of conduct (from that of Pennsylvania Medical Board) and resolution – which each member state will now have to unilaterally accept – is significant.

These huge differences apply to all physicians.  Who is a physician.  Physician under the Act means a person who:

1. is a graduate of a medical school accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation or a medical school listed in the International Medical Education Directory or its equivalent;
2. passed each component of the United States Medical Licensing Examination or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination within three attempts or any of its predecessor examinations accepted by a state medical board as an equivalent examination for licensure purposes;
3. successfully completed graduate medical education approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education or the American Osteopathic Association;
4. holds specialty certification or a time-unlimited specialty certificate recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association’s Bureau of Osteopathic Specialists;
5. possesses a full and unrestricted license to engage in the practice of medicine issued by a member board;
6. has never been convicted, received adjudication, deferred adjudication, community supervision or deferred disposition for any offense by a court of appropriate jurisdiction;
7. has never held a license authorizing the practice of medicine subjected to discipline by a licensing agency in a state, federal or foreign jurisdiction, excluding an action related to non-payment of fees related to a license;
8. has never had a controlled substance license or permit suspended or revoked by a state or the United States Drug Enforcement Administration; and
9. is not under active investigation by a licensing agency or law enforcement authority in a state, federal or foreign jurisdiction.

 

Licensees must identify a state of primary licensure.  That state will verify eligibility, conduct background checks, and maintain fingerprint and biometric data. However, these investigations and parameters are set through federal regulations, and not individual state law. Expedited licensure issued by the central processing state makes that interstate commission more powerful than the individual primary state. The interstate license is limited to a specific period of time in the same manner as required for the physicians holding a full unrestricted license within that state. And expedited license obtained through the compact shall be terminated if the physician fails to maintain a license in the state of principle licensure for a non-disciplinary reason, without re-designation of a new state or principle licensure.

Because there’s a coordinated information system, Pennsylvania’s law allows member boards to report to the interstate commission any public action or complaints against a licensed physician who has applied to receive the expedited license through the compact. Member boards report disciplinary or investigation information and determine if it is necessary and proper basis for disciplinary action by the interstate commissions. Member boards may report any non-public complaint, disciplinary or investigative information to the commission. Member boards will share complaint or disciplinary information.. This means even the most minimal initial disciplinary investigatory claims, unfounded, without final disciplinary decision, by a member state is automatically reported to the entire commission. Disciplinary action from the commission, not an individual state jurisdiction, could be the basis for disciplinary action. How does the physician defend himself or herself against this.

The Act specifically says “any disciplinary action taken by any member board against a physician license through the compact shall be deemed unprofessional conduct which may be subject to discipline by other member boards, in addition to any violation of the medical practices act or regulations in that state. Such a disciplinary action by one state may be deemed conclusive as to a matter of law in fact, allowing the member jurisdictions to impose the same or less or sanction or pursue a separate disciplinary action against position under its respective medical practices act, regardless of action taken and other member states.

 

Call me about your license application, conditional approvals, of pending discipline.

A Fringe Benefit of Practicing Law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

There are many benefits to being a licensed, practicing lawyer in this country and Commonwealth.  One fringe benefit (and I mean fringe) of practicing law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is driving through and to the counties in this jurisdiction.  Practicing in Delaware, Chester, York, Lebanon, Dauphin, Luzerne, Montgomery, Lackawanna, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Lancaster, Northampton, Monroe, Clearfield, Blair, Center counties, I drive throughout the Commonwealth.  The word Commonwealth does not do justice to the beauty of the counties in which I travel and the courthouse in which I practice.

Monroe County Court House Square

 

One recent cool, spring day I had the pleasure of a relaxing drive from my home in the suburbs of Philadelphia to the Monroe County Courthouse in the quaint hamlet of Strousburg, Pa.  I left my home at 7:00 am.  By 7:45 I entered the Lehigh Valley and was approaching the scenic Delaware River Water Gap area.  I left Philadelphia in a heavy fog, arriving in the Lehigh Valley as the fog began dissipating from the  mountain valleys.   Steamy slopes and long shadows were cast as the sun climbed over the hills and heated the morning sky.  Route 78’s mountain passes were freed from their foggy blanket revealing the height of the tree-topped slops.  What a peaceful ride.  The rich majesty of Penn’s Woods (the translation of the word Pennsylvania) became evident.

The coffee shop on the square at the Monroe County Court House, Strousburg, Pa

Home made scones, croissants, and danish.

Upon arriving in Monroe county and the courthouse square, I had the pleasure of stopping for coffee at the café duet. Pictured above, I partook in a croissant and perfect cappuccino in the a sun-lit square.  I could have been in any hamlet or borough in another country.  I, however had the pleasure of attending to my profession, take care of a valued client, and being given the opportunity to enjoy Monroe County.

In between mentally organizing my case, I day dreamed about the incredible mountain bike riding trails that snaked through the various gorges, streams, and mountain passes. Exercising both my mind and body is a wonderful activity I engage in on a daily basis.  I will be in Center, Blair, and Clearfield counties over the next several weeks.  I will cherish my time and my profession while I enjoy the best the Commonwealth has to offer this summer.

Call me about your legal matter.

Pennsylvania’s DUI Statute and Warrantless Blood Draws — No Proof of Intoxication

Several months ago I wrote about the June 23, 2016, the United States Supreme Court decision in three companion cases — Birchfield v. N. Dakota, 136 S.Ct. 2160, 2173, 2185, 195 L. Ed. 2d 560 (2016).  Pennsylvania’s appellate courts have finally reviewed and decided a case addressing, in the context of a warrantless blood draw in a DUI, what is consent in Pennsylvania.

A review of the DUI informed consent issue is a good place to start.  Consistent with 75 Pa. C.S.A. §1547(c) the Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle code imposes evidentiary admissibility standards for blood tests consensually drawn without a warrant. Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle code addressing driving under the influence (“DUI”) of alcohol or controlled substances, 75 Pa. C.S.A. § 3802 (b)(c) & (d) each contain as an essential element of the criminal offense a defendant’s blood alcohol concentration level.

The grading provisions of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle code, 75 Pa. C.S.A. §3803(d), as they relate to DUI charges, identify in subsections 1 through 4 that any individual who is under investigation for violating 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802, et seq., (accusing an individual of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol such that they are incapable of safely driving) and refuses to voluntary submit to a warrant-less blood test, is to receive enhanced criminal sentencing terms of incarceration solely as a result of the refusal to voluntarily submit to the blood draw.

Birchfield  focuses on the legality of motorists lawfully arrested for drunk driving subject to enhanced criminal penalties for refusing to allow a warrantless blood draw to measure the level of alcohol in their blood stream. The Supreme Court rejects North Dakota’s asserted need to obtain blood alcohol readings absent a warrant in light of the fact that its motor vehicle code implied consent laws, similarly to Pennsylvania’s, provide for separate and enhanced criminal sentencing terms of incarceration solely as a result of the refusal to voluntarily submit to the blood draw.

Birchfield approves of implied consent laws such as 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1547 that impose civil penalties and evidentiary consequences on motorists who refused to comply breath tests. However, Birchfield then rules it is unconstitutional for a state to insist upon an intrusive blood test and then to impose criminal penalties on those who refuse to submit to those same tests. “There must be a limit to the consequences to which motorists may have deemed to consent by virtue of a decision to drive on a public road.”

Birchfield makes clear the Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Law, 75 Pa.C.S.A. §3802, et. seq., is unconstitutional because it provides for enhanced criminal penalties of those accused of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol when, during a search incident to a lawful arrest, the defendant who refuses to submit a warrantless blood draw pursuant to 75 Pa. C.S.A. §1547 and/or § 3802 is subject to enhanced criminal penalties.

In determining the validity of a given consent, the Commonwealth bears the burden of establishing that a consent is the product of an essentially free and unconstrained choice — not the result of duress or coercion, express or implied, or a will overborne — under the totality of the circumstances. The standard for measuring the scope of a person’s consent is based on an objective evaluation of what a reasonable person would have understood by the exchange between the officer and the person who gave the consent. Such evaluation includes an objective examination of the maturity, sophistication and mental or emotional state of the defendant. Gauging the scope of a defendant’s consent is an inherent and necessary part of the process of determining, on the totality of the circumstances presented, whether the consent is objectively valid, or instead the product of coercion, deceit, or misrepresentation.  Commonwealth v. Smith, 621 Pa. 218, 77 A.3d 562, 573 (Pa. 2013)

The case of Commonwealth v. Evans, 2016 PA Super 293  (December 20, 2016), is the first major Pennsylvania Appellate Court decision discussing Pennsylvania’s DUI statute, the Implied Consent Law (“O’Connell Warnings”), and the prosecutor’s burden of proof at the suppression hearing.  Evans holds that a defendant does not have to prove they gave consent only based upon the threat of a more severe criminal penalty (jail and further license suspension).  Rather, the statute itself establishes this burden and the Prosecutor must rebut that legal presumption.  Because there is no ability to rebut a presumption of illegitimate consent when threatened with enhanced jail penalties, all motions to suppress must be granted.

Call me to discuss your DUI, the warrantless search of your blood, whether you consented or not, and the professional license issues as a result of the DUI.

The Drug Act — Pa Doctors’ Reporting Responsibilities for Arrest, Conviction, and Automatic Suspensions

Every day I read appellate cases that review disciplinary decisions of Pennsylvania’s licensing boards. A recent case discusses physicians’ unique arrest and conviction reporting responsibility to the State Board of Medicine.  Physician’s reporting of arrests versus convictions depends on the crime involved.

Pennsylvania’s MCare’s law regarding malpractice insurance coverage, 40 P.S. § 1303. 903(4), identifies physician’s reporting responsibilities if a professional liability claim is asserted them, disciplinary action taken against them from another jurisdiction, criminal sentencing for any case, and the arrest of a physician in four very limited classes of crimes. These offenses are:

  • following offenses in this Commonwealth or another state:
    • (i)  18 Pa.C.S. Ch. 25 (relating to criminal homicide);
    • (iii)  18 Pa.C.S. Ch. 31 (relating to sexual offenses).
    • (iv)  A violation of the act of April 14, 1972 (P.L. 233, No. 64), known as The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.
Physicians’ limited reporting responsibilities means arrests for following offenses does not trigger reporting to the state: domestic violence offenses, DUI’s offenses, theft offenses, or a string of federal related non-drug criminal arrest offenses.   Physicians do have to report arrests alleging a sex offense, homicide, aggravated assault, and a violation under the Drug Act.
Understanding what offenses are Drug Act offenses, not just possession or selling drugs, under The Act that are important.  Drug Act charges include patient record keeping, charting issues, and properly recording and dispensing medications.  Section 780-111 of the Drug Act focuses  on professional prescription, administration, and dispensing of drugs.  Here, the Act states:
  • (a)  Except when dispensed or administered directly to the patient by a practitioner or his authorized agent, other than a pharmacist, to an ultimate user, no controlled substance in Schedule II, may be dispensed without the written prescription of a practitioner, except in emergency situations, as prescribed by the secretary by regulation. No prescription for a controlled substance in Schedule II may be refilled.
  • (b)  Except when dispensed directly by a practitioner, other than a pharmacist, to an ultimate user, no controlled substance in Schedule III or IV, may be dispensed without a written or oral prescription. Such prescriptions shall not be filled or refilled more than six months after the date thereof or be refilled more than five times after the date of the prescription unless renewed by the practitioner.
  • (c)  No controlled substance in Schedule V may be distributed or dispensed for other than a medicinal purpose.
  • (d)  A practitioner may prescribe, administer, or dispense a controlled substance or other drug or device only (i) in good faith in the course of his professional practice, (ii) within the scope of the patient relationship, and (iii) in accordance with treatment principles accepted by a responsible segment of the medical profession. A practitioner may cause a controlled substance, other drug or device or drug to be administered by a professional assistant under his direction and supervision.
  • (d.1)  A practitioner shall not prescribe, administer or dispense any anabolic steroid for the purpose of enhancing a person’s performance in an exercise, sport or game. A practitioner may not prescribe, administer or dispense any anabolic steroid for the purpose of hormonal manipulation intended to increase muscle mass, strength or weight except when medically necessary.
  • (e)  A veterinarian may prescribe, administer, or dispense a controlled substance, other drug or device only (i) in good faith in the course of his professional practice, and (ii) not for use by a human being. He may cause a controlled substance, other drug or device to be administered by a professional assistant under his direction and supervision.
  • (f)  Any drug or device dispensed by a pharmacist pursuant to a prescription order shall bear a label showing (i) the name and address of the pharmacy and any registration number obtained pursuant to any applicable Federal laws, (ii) the name of the patient, or, if the patient is an animal, the name of the owner of the animal and the species of the animal, (iii) the name of the practitioner by whom the prescription order was written, and (iv) the serial number and date of filing of the prescription order. In addition, the following statement shall be required on the label of a controlled substance: “Transfer of this drug to anyone other than the patient for whom it was prescribed is illegal.”

§ 780-112 focuses on records of distribution of controlled substances

  • (a)  Every person who sells or otherwise distributes controlled substances, shall keep records of all purchases or other receipt and sales or other distribution of such substances for two years from the date of purchase or sale. Such records shall include the name and address of the person from whom purchased or otherwise received or to whom sold or otherwise distributed, the date of purchase or receipt or sale or distribution, and the quantity involved: Provided, however, That this subsection shall not apply to a practitioner who dispenses controlled substances to his patients, unless the practitioner is regularly engaged in charging his patients, whether separately or together with charges for other professional services, for substances so dispensed.
  • (b)  Every practitioner licensed by law to administer, dispense or distribute controlled substances shall keep a record of all such substances administered, dispensed or distributed by him, showing the amount administered, dispensed or distributed, the date, the name and address of the patient, and in the case of a veterinarian, the name and address of the owners of the animal to whom such substances are dispensed or distributed. Such record shall be kept for two years from the date of administering, dispensing or distributing such substance and shall be open for inspection by the proper authorities.
  • (c)  Persons registered or licensed to manufacture or distribute or dispense a controlled substance, other drug or device under this act shall keep records and maintain inventories in conformity with the record-keeping, order form and inventory requirements of Federal law and with any additional regulations the secretary issues. Controlled substances in Schedules I and II shall be distributed by a registrant to another registrant only pursuant to an order form.
Violations of either of these two subsections and their itemized list, by either doctors or other health care nurses is dealt with under section § 780-123, revocation of licenses of practitioners.
  • (a)  Any license or registration heretofore issued to any practitioner may either be revoked or suspended by the proper officers or boards having power to issue licenses or registration to any of the foregoing, upon proof that the licensee or registrant is a drug dependent person on the use of any controlled substance, after giving such licensee or registrant reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard.
  • (b)  The appropriate licensing boards in the Department of State are hereby authorized to revoke or suspend the registration or license of any practitioner when such person has pleaded guilty or nolo contendere or has been convicted of a felony under this act or any similar State or Federal law. Before any such revocation or suspension, the licensee or registrant shall be given a hearing before the appropriate board. At such hearing the accused may be represented by counsel and shall be entitled to compulsory attendance of witnesses.
  • (c)  The appropriate licensing boards in the Department of State shall automatically suspend, for a period not to exceed one year, the registration or license of any practitioner when the person has pleaded guilty or nolo contendere or has been convicted of a misdemeanor under this act. The district attorney of each county shall immediately notify the appropriate State licensing board of practitioners subject to the provisions of this section. However, the provisions of such automatic suspension may be stayed by the appropriate State licensing board in those cases where a practitioner has violated the provisions of this act only for the personal use of controlled substances by the practitioner and the practitioner participates in the impaired professional program approved by the appropriate State licensing board for a period of between three and five years, as directed by the appropriate licensing board. If the practitioner fails to comply in all respects with the standards of such a program, the appropriate licensing board shall immediately vacate the stay of the enforcement of the suspension provided for herein. Automatic suspension shall not be stayed pending any appeal of a conviction. Restoration of such license shall be made as in the case of a suspension of license.

35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 780-123

Case law addressing practitioner’s objections to the emergent and disparate impact Drug Act convictions and their automatic suspensions have on doctors is very clear.   Board discretion and legislative prerogative regarding public safety out weight a physician’s property right in their license.  “Licensed medical practitioners’ unique access to controlled drugs and a physician’s appropriation of this access for illegal purposes presents a danger to the Commonwealth, for which the General Assembly has legitimately and rationally adopted a separate policing device.”  Call me to discuss your case.

Network Investigative Techniques, Federal Criminal Search Tools, and Your 4Th Amendment Rights

My involvement for twenty five years in federal criminal matters has resulted in me handing many different Motions to Suppress. Recently, in the context of Federal internet criminal investigations, I have gained extensive experience fighting the new federal investigative techniques, (“NIT”) that reveal personal identity and location data.

Once such case involves the Government’s use of an NIT or Network Investigative Technique. The NIT is a malware program placed on a computer server that launches itself into each computer accessing that server to engage in alleged criminal activity.  The accessing computers utilize the TOR network for anonymity purposes.  Upon accessing specific areas of the server, the malware on the server then sends to the activating computer (in another state typically inside a person’s home) a code instruction to search, secure, and transmit back to the server the user’s IP address. Thereafter, search warrants secure the personal identification and location information of the accessing computer owner.

I have filed motions to suppress this search technique.  The Government bears the burden of showing, under the Fourth Amendment, the reasonableness of each individual act constituting a search or seizure. The burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence. The court is presented with the choice of two tracks of analysis. Does the court choose to evaluate these defendants’ constitutional rights affected by the NIT Warrant under the:
1) Reasonable expectation of privacy test set forth in United States v. Katz, 389 U.S. 347 (1967); or
2) The property-based Fourth Amendment test set forth in United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. ___, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012). There, the court exclusively applied the property-based approach to determine whether a search occurs when the Government physically occupies private property of another for the purposes obtaining information. This approach keeps easy cases easy.

  1. PROPERTY-BASED FOURTH AMENDMENT PROTECTIONS

The court must choose the property-based search analysis set forth in JonesJones holds that surveillance on a person through electronic means without a warrant constitutes a trespass and may be an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. 132 S.Ct. at 953–54. Even though Jones involved warrantless global positioning system (“GPS”) searching, the analysis applies because the NIT warrant is illegal. Jones makes clear the constitutional nature of computer searches, especially in the privacy of one’s home.

Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1 (2013), follows Jones’ property – based Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.  The Jardines court held that a warrantless dog sniffing through the front door of Jardines’ home constitutes an unconstitutional search of a constitutionally protected area.  In Jardines, as here, “the officers learn what they learned only by physically intruding on Jardines’ property to gather evidence.”  This search activity is enough to establish that a search occurred. These cases stand for the proposition that the “Fourth Amendment, at its very core, stands for the right of a man to retreat into his home and there be free from unreasonable Government intrusion.” Jardines, supra.

There is no evaluation or discussion of an expectation of privacy under the property-based Fourth Amendment jurisprudence after JonesJardines, 569 U.S. at *9.  The court recognizes a simplistic procedure.  If the Government goes on the property of another, (trespassing or not) it needs a warrant due to Fourth Amendment’s constitutional property rights. These NIT cases, the Government understood this legal necessity and secured the NIT warrant. However, the NIT warrant was illegal.

  1. The Constitutional Character of the NIT Search is Per Se Prejudicial

In today’s society, disclosing an Internet Protocol (“IP”) address is, in essence, disclosing protected location privacy. Similar to Jones‘ GPS coordinates in tracking devices or cellular telephones, location data reveals a great deal about a person.  As such, cases discussing governmental activity and search techniques that reveal a defendant/target’s location are relevant to the court’s analysis of prejudice and the constitutional level of protections in these motions to suppress.

United States v. Maynard, 615 F.3d 544, 562 (D. C. Cir. 2010), affirmed, United States v. Jones, supra, stands for this proposition. Analogizing IP address location data to cellular telephones, Justice Alito writes that “society’s expectations have been that police agency and others will not secretly monitor and catalog every single movement of an individual’s car for a very long period of time.” Jones at 945.

Thereafter, in Riley v. California, ___ U.S. ___, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014), the Supreme Court following Jones, specifically references location privacy as a reason to limit police searches of cellular telephones incident to arrest.  The Riley Court determines that due to the wealth of information electronic devices “contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life.” Riley at 2494–95.

Riley even states, “The fact that an arrestee has diminished privacy interests does not mean that the Fourth Amendment falls out of the picture entirely. Not every search “is acceptable solely because a person is in custody.” Maryland v. King, 569 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (slip op., at 26). To the contrary, when “privacy-related concerns are weighty enough” a “search may require a warrant, notwithstanding the diminished expectations of privacy of the arrestee.” Ibid. One such example, of course, is Chimel. Chimel refused to “characteriz[e] the invasion of privacy that results from a top-to-bottom search of a man’s house as ‘minor.’” 395 U. S., at 766–767, n. 12. Because a search of the arrestee’s entire house was a substantial invasion beyond the arrest itself, the Court concluded that a warrant was required.” Riley, supra.  Cellular telephones and home computers are simultaneously offices and personal diaries containing the most intimate details of our lives. United States v. Cotterman, 709 F. 3d. 952, 964 (9th Cir.. 2013).  Several circuits recognize these facts, uniformly requiring a warrant prior to searching a computer. United States v. Paton, 573F.3-D 859 (9th Cir. 2009); United States v. Andrus, 483 F.3d 711, 718 (10th Cir. 2007).

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania addresses surveillance issues of GPS warrants in United States v. Ortiz, 878 F. Supp. 2d. 515 (E.D.Pa. 2012). In the Court’s discussion of location data and the privacy issues, it concludes that the Government’s warrantless surveillance technique “produces location data while inside the garage of a home or other Fourth Amendment protected place”, potentially yielding information that the Supreme Court specifically found in United States v. Karo, 468 U.S. 705 (1984), is protected by the Fourth Amendment.

An unreasonable search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment occurs where, without a warrant, the Government surreptitiously employs an electronic device to obtain information it could not have obtained by observation from outside the curtilage of the house. The beeper tells the agent that a particular article is actually    located at a specific time in the private residence and is in the possession of the person or persons whose residence is being watched.  Even if visual surveillance has revealed that the article to which the beeper is attached  has entered the house, the later monitoring not only verifies the officers about observations but also establishes that the article remains on the premises. United States v. Karo 468 US at 715.

Ortiz at ___.

Review of these controlling Supreme Court cases and their emphasis on the data produced through cutting edge surveillance techniques (including an NIT) on electronic mediums (cellular telephones and home computers) render’s applicable the Fourth Amendment privacy protections afforded to Jones, Jardines, and Riley.

  1. Expectation of Privacy in an IP address

An expectation of privacy in location data that IP addresses reveal is both objectively and subjectively reasonable based upon people using the TOR network and how the Government secures those person’s IP address.  The Government typically argues that because these defendants may have initially disseminated their IP address through an internet service provider (“ISP”), they have no expectation of privacy in an IP address.  This is factually wrong.

  1. Third Party Doctrine

The case of Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979), addresses warrantless access to information possessed by a third-party. This is the third-party doctrine set forth in United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. at 957.  Third party dissemination and reduced expectation of privacy has no applicability here because of the NIT’s mechanism of search and how Government secures that defendant’s IP address from his computer, not a third-party ISP. The court requires factual testimony on this issue.

United States v. Stanley, 753 F.3d 114 (3d. Cir. 2014), specifically addresses the no expectation of privacy of IP addresses when a defendant uses his neighbor’s wireless router without permission. The Government found Stanley’s computer’s wireless signal piggy backing illegally on his neighbor’s unsecured wireless router. Such unauthorized use of the neighbor’s IP address through which a third-party provider secures individual media access control (“MAC”) addresses of moochers of other people’s wireless routers. The Court found this fact alone reveals that Stanley had no expectation of privacy in his IP or MAC address. Stanley‘s finding that there is not an expectation of privacy in an IP address is not binding here as such is not the basis of the Government’s investigation in this case.

These defendants’ IP addresses are not disclosed anywhere throughout the use of the TOR or his third party ISP.  Declaration, Special Agent Daniel Alfin, document no. 74-1, filed June 1, 2016, U.S. v. Matish, 4:16-cr-00016, attached hereto at Exhibit 3.  This declaration makes clear that the NIT did not secure any other defendant’s, IP address from a third-party ISP or through the TOR network. Rather, the NIT searched for and secured the accessor’s IP address SOLELY from their own computer programming.

The NIT transferred directly to the Government from that defendant’s computer, his IP address not through the ISP.  The Government must acknowledge this fact in response to court’s inquiry of how the NIT worked in Matish. The Government bluntly concedes that but for the IP address, it could not locate these defendants.  These IP address would have been unknown.  The accessing defendants’ personal location data is collected from the accessing computer. See Exhibit 3, Alfins’ declaration, ¶¶ 22 and 25; Exhibit 2, Alfin’s May 19, 2016 Testimony, page 13-17, 21–26.  Alfin makes clear this factual point.

Once put to the test in a Motion to Compel Discovery, Alfin’s testimony is in stark contrast to the NIT Affiant Special Agent Douglas Macfarlane’s affidavit stating that the NIT instructions “are designed to cause the user’s ‘activating’ computer to transmit certain information to a computer controlled by or known to the government,” including the “activating” computer’s actual IP address. See Affidavit in Support of Application for Search Warrant, at ¶ 33.   The NIT would deploy “each time that any user or administrator log[ged] into Playpen by entering a username and password.” (Id., Ex. 1 ¶ 36.) The FBI could then link a username and its corresponding activity on the site with an IP address. (Id., Ex. 1 ¶ 37.)  This is factually wrong when compared to Alfin’s declaration and testimony regarding how the NIT worked its search functions performed when an accessing computer logged onto the Playpen Website.

The Government was less than candid with the tribunal by not advising it that the NIT would send a computer search and seizure program to the user’s home computer and then send back to the FBI computer an IP address.  The FBI was not linking a username and corresponding activity to an IP address. Further, the record is unclear if the Government told  the Magistrate that it was concurrently filing a Title III warrant.  This would have disclosed both its strategic use of a magistrate to issue the NIT Warrant and its seizure gathering mechanism of electronic information for which it required Article III judicial authorization.

The NIT that accessed these defendants’ computers operates in the computer memory locations, retrieved information, and then leaves the computer. The same situation is presented when the Government comes into your house, searches your house, and then leaves. The Government is required to advise you of the search (giving you the search warrant) and then leaves you an inventory of items seized. None of that was done in this occasion.  Jones, Riley, Jardines affirm this constitutional requirement to which Rule 41(B) codifies into a procedure implementing the Fourth Amendment’s warrant provision.

As such, the question is not whether there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy in an Internet IP address (as Werdene concluded there was not), but does a person have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area where the search (his home) occurred and in the information seized (his location).   Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128 (1978). Darby and Matish conclude yes.  This court must choose the property-based Fourth Amendment analysis and afford these deendants the constitutional protections because the NIT searches a home-based computer.

Call me to discuss your NIT, Playpen based federal government internet criminal matter.

Major US Supreme Court DUI Decision and Pennsylvania Licensees

On June 23 the United States Supreme Court decided  BIRCHFIELD v. NORTH DAKOTA, three consolidated cases addressing important substantive and procedural legal issues regarding driving under the influence (“DUI”) cases.  In each case, the North Dakota motorist, lawfully arrested or under investigation for drunk driving, was convicted of a separate crime or otherwise received an enhanced criminal penalty for refusing to submit to a warrantless blood test measuring the alcohol in their bloodstream.

All three state court cases results depended upon the proposition that criminal laws ordi­narily may not compel a motorist to give evidence against themselves in the form a blood sample or breath test unless a warrant authorizing such testing is issued by a magistrate.  The specific issue considered was how the search-incident-to-arrest doctrine applies to breath and blood tests incident to DUI arrests. The court ruled while compelled evidence from breath tests are constitutional based upon the limited inconvenience and invasion of privacy to the motorist, compelled blood tests are unconstitutional for those same reasons.

In Pennsylvania, 75 Pa C.S.A. § 1547 of the motor vehicle laws addresses motorists’ civil license suspension consequences for refusing to submit to a DUI investigation breath or blood test. Depending on how many refusals the operator of the car has previously engaged, a driver’s license suspension based upon a breath or blood test refusal starts at one year and may escalate. The court ruled that these civil collateral consequence license suspension for refusing the test remains constitutional. “Our prior opinions have referred approvingly to the gen­eral concept of implied-consent laws that impose civil penalties and evidentiary consequences on motorists who refuse to comply.”The Birchfield case did not question the constitutionality of those civil collateral consequence refusal laws, and the Supreme Court limited its ruling stating that “nothing should be read to cast doubt on them.”

In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that the natural dissipation of alcohol from the bloodstream does not always constitute an exigency justifying the warrantless taking of a blood sample. That was the holding of Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U. S. ___, where the State of Mis­souri was seeking a per se rule that “whenever an officer has probable cause to believe an individual has been driving under the influence of alcohol, exigent circum­stances will necessarily exist because BAC evidence is inherently evanescent.”  This case set the stage for Birchfield, where the individual defendant’s objected to being criminally penalized for not submitting to the warrantless blood draw or were criminally penalized when the warrantless blood draw produced evidence that was used against them in trial.

Pennsylvania’s DUI statute, 75 Pa.C.S.A.§3802D, provides for enhanced criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a breath or blood test stemming from a DUI investigation. DUI offenders with multiple prior DUI convictions faced enhanced license suspensions and jail sentences based upon the same refusal. In Birchfield, after reviewing all of the prior case law regarding car stops, privacy concerns, and search incident to arrest case law, the court held that motorists cannot be deemed to have consented to submit to a blood test on pain of committing a criminal offense.  Motorists can not be compelled criminally to give evidence against themselves without a warrant signed by an independent magistrate.
The court has finally drawn a constitutional line in the sand limiting the extent to which a state may utilize driving-on-our-roads informed consent laws to compel motorists to give evidence against themselves so the state may investigate and prosecute them for criminal conduct. In Pennsylvania, this will mean enhanced criminal penalties associated with refusing a blood test, not breathalyzer, in any criminal DUI prosecution may no longer be constitutionally permissible.  Please call to discuss your DUI charge, your medical or professional license issue and potential discipline on your license from stemming from your first or subsequent DUI.

Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act — Pennsylvania’s Ill Drafted Version

Today our country’s geographically diverse population seeks competent medical care in their small outlying communities. This is prompting hospital administrators to investigate different ways to reach all of their potential constituents. The Affordable Care Act, by providing tax incentives and tax credits, is incentivizes businesses to create different modes of delivery of medical treatment to satiate the medical demands of communities where current medical care is sparse.

Increases in demand for medical care is coinciding with the 21st century’s growth in internet based communication capabilities and electronic medical record storage possibilities. This perfect equilibrium of expanding medical demands and new medical delivery capabilities is prompting many states to consider allowing out of state medical practitioners to receive expedited licensure through a national compact process.

The formal name of the law is the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act (the “Act”). With a stated purpose of strengthening avenues to health care through recent advances in the delivery of health care services, member states of the Act seek to develop a comprehensive process for expanding physician licensure from their one primary state to all states that participate in the Act. The Act seeks to adopt a prevailing standard for licensure that will allow medical boards of a participating state to retain jurisdiction to impose license discipline while promoting patient safety and expanding treatment options.

Pennsylvania has not yet enacted the Act. The Act has been introduced in the Pennsylvania General Assembly as House Bill 1619 of 2015. A similar bill has not been presented in the Pennsylvania Senate. The initial bill has been referred to the House Committee on Health as of October 14, 2015.

House Bill 1619 of 2015 requires the applying physician to designate a member state “as a state of principal license” for the purposes of registering for an expedited license. A state qualifies as a principle state if the physician possesses a full and unrestricted license to practice medicine in that state, is the location of the physician’s primary residence, and at least 25% of the physician’s medical practice is in that state.

A physician seeking multiple jurisdiction expedited licenses through the Act initially applies to their principle state medical board for “eligibility” of an expedited license. The principle state issues a letter of qualification verifying or denying eligibility, with a minor appeal process if there is a denial. Preconditions of principle state eligibility include standard competency and educational qualifications, a satisfactory criminal background check, and determination of suitability in accordance with 5 C.F.R. § 731.202.

Eligibility determinations are then delivered to an Interstate Licensure Commission, which will establish the registration process for licensure is member jurisdictions. The physician identifies in which states she is seeking licensure under the Act. Thereafter a member board shall issue the expedited license to the physician to practice medicine in the issuing state(s) upon payment of designated issuing state’s fees and costs. The practice of medicine in any issuing state will be consistent with the Medical Practices Act and laws and regulations of the both the principle state and member states.

An important part of the Act is the joint investigation and disciplinary process. House Bill 1619-2015 current form allows member boards of each state to participate in joint investigations by other member boards. Subpoenas issued by one member state shall be enforceable in another member state. Member boards may share investigative, litigation, or compliance materials in furtherance of any joint or individual investigation initiated under the Act. Any member state is authorized to investigate actual or alleged violations of statutes authorizing the practice of medicine in any other member state in which the physician holds a license to practice medicine. This sounds like a free for all, pile it on, rugby game.

Any disciplinary action taken by the physician’s principle licensing board (their home state) shall, under House Bill 1619 of 2015, be deemed unprofessional conduct subject to discipline by other member boards in addition to any violation of the Medical Practices Act or regulations of the principle state. Revocation, suspension, or surrender of a license in lieu of discipline or suspension shall cause the physician’s license to suffer similar status by each and every member board to which that physician is licensed.

Conversely, however, any reinstatement of the physician’s license by his principal state medical board shall not affect the encumbered status of that physician’s license in other member states unless and until each member state takes individual action to reinstate my license. This provision allows each member board to conduct the practice of their medical board license disciplinary action independent of the Act. This process is different the current due process rules that require each state’s discipline of a multiple state licensed professional to be independent of, and not link to, any prior state’s discipline.

Any discipline action taken by the physician by a member board, not the principal license board, may be used by other member boards as a conclusive disciplinary action warranting imposition of the same or less or sanction or a separate disciplinary action by other member boards. As well, any license investigation by a member board that becomes the subject revocation, surrender or relinquishment in lieu of discipline shall cause the physician’s license to suffer the same consequences without any further action in each other member board without the subject to any disciplinary investigation. The physician truly becomes hostage to the initiating state’s disciplinary process and must fight it to the death so as to avoid any automatic domino effect.

The Act seeks to balance the states’ citizens’ need for medical care, a nation’s policy interest in granting access to high quality medical care to all citizens, and a physician’s ability to provide competent medical service regardless of artificial state borders against patient safety and criminally active doctors. The primary concern of the Act is who will become the disciplinary supervisor of doctors practicing throughout the country under the Act. While this is a serious and weighty issue, the Act in its current form fails to safeguard the medical license of Pennsylvania’s many doctors who will choose it as their primary state of licensure.

Pennsylvania’s medical schools have produced thousands of doctors over the years. Many secure initial graduate school training licenses and stay in the Commonwealth after residency to care for Pennsylvania’s residents. Many choose Pennsylvania as a home. The Act as drafted in House 1619 of 2015 will discourage this.

Physicians who seek to practice medicine in multiple states through the Act will sacrifice a significant degree of due process if any disciplinary investigation is commenced or levied against them. While there is significant financial interest to provide internet-based face time oriented medical practice across state borders without driving distances, to save lives, the inevitable due process concerns are significant. Exploding populations are overrunning medical investigatory boards with rampant anonymous complaints that will warrant investigation.

Every day baseless complaints of Medicare Medicaid insurance fraud, pill mills, sexual assaults, or drug theft and diversion are generated from specious reporters who are either aggrieved patients, angry disgruntled business partners, jealous or angry co-employees, or scorned lovers. House Bill 1619 of 2015 exposes Pennsylvania’s principle-based medical practitioners to unilateral concurrent disciplinary process of member states without the ability to respond, investigate, or even defend oneself in a court of law. Member state’s unilateral actions will automatically trickle back to the physician’s primary licensure state, causing potentially automatic disciplinary action there. The Act as written is not in the interest of Pennsylvania medical community.

Federal Sentencing Issues: Calculation of Loss — Great Decision

On September 30, 2015, the Third Circuit decided United States v. Nagle, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 17187. Joseph Nagle and Ernest Fink appealed the District Court’s calculation of loss from which their lengthy prison sentences were derived. For federal sentencing fanatics, of which I am one, Nagle is momentous for reversing the District Court’s USSG actual loss sentencing enhancement.

In the 1950’s Nagle’s family formed Schuylkill Products, Inc. (“SPI”), a Pennsylvania manufacturer of concrete beams utilized in highway and mass transit construction projects. In 2004 Joseph Nagle inherited a 50.1% interest in SPI, becoming CEO. In 1993 CDS Engineers, Inc., was formed. Fink owned 49.9% and was Vice President and general manager. After 2004 SPI became a wholly-owned subsidiary of SPI, installing SPI’s manufactured concrete beams.

Federal regulations require states utilizing federal highway funds to establish and meet goals of participation for qualified disadvantaged business enterprises (“DBEs”). The DBE must be certified and perform a commercially useful function in the project. The DBE cannot be a fabricated front for an otherwise non-certified DBE. Neither SPI nor CDS were certified DBEs. Marikina Engineers and Construction Corp (“Marikina”) was a Connecticut based certified DBE subcontractor.

SPI and CDS paid Marikina a fixed fee for DBE participation in SEPTA and PennDOT contracts but kept the contracts’ profits. Nagle, through CDS, prepared and submitted project applications utilizing Marikina’s email and stationary. SPI accessed electronic PennDOT contract management systems through Marikina’s login passwords. SPI employees carried Marikina’s business cards and cellular telephones. During the conspiracy, Marikina received $54 million in SEPTA DBE contracts and over $119 million in PennDOT contracts.

Nagle and Fink were charged with and convicted of orchestrating a scheme between 1993-2008 of utilizing Marikina to bid for PennDOT and SEPTA DBE construction projects which SPI and CDS would perform but were otherwise not entitled as a non-DBE. Prior to Nagle’s trial, Fink and three of Marikina’s principles plead guilty.

As a fraud case, the sentencing court first looks at United States Sentencing Guideline (“USSG”) § 2B1.1 for the offense level associated with a specific amount of fraud. Subsection (b) lists adjustments based upon the amount of loss. As the loss increases, offense levels unscientifically increase. (A loss between $70,000 and $119,999 adds eight to the offense level. A loss over $1 million but less than $2.5 million increases 18 offense levels. Losses between $50 and $100 million allow for a 24 level increase.)

On June 30, 2010 the District Court concluded that USSG § 2B1.1(b) required Fink’s loss to equal the contracts’ face value, $135.8 million. This occurred in Nagle’s co-defendant’s case. United States v. Campbell, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65770 (M.D. Pa., June 30, 2010). The Court employed USSG § 2B1.1, cmt.n.3(F)(ii) as the case was associated with fraudulent receipt of government benefits.

Note 3(F)(ii) reads “in a case involving government benefits (grants, loans, entitlement program payments), the loss shall be considered to be not less than the value of the benefits obtained by the unintended recipient.” The court held that § 2B1.1 cmt.n.3(A) defines actual loss as the reasonably foreseeable pecuniary harm that resulted from the offense. The court determined Note 3(A) applicable because Marikina, SPI, and CDS defendants were unintended recipients of DBE funds not entitled to a credit for services rendered and they had not refunded the contract price to allow for an eligible DBE to perform the work.

After his conviction, Nagle’s presentence report relied on the Court’s June 2010 opinion to value his § 2B1.1(b) cmt.n.3(A) loss at $54 million. This increased by 24 Nagle’s offense level calculus. Nagle’s objections, similar to Fink’s which were held under advisement until after Nagle’s trial, argued the loss is offset by the value of services rendered based upon § 2B1.1 cmt.n.3(A), United States v. White, 2012 WL 4513489 (SDNY Oct 2, 2012), and its interpretation of U.S.S.G. §2B1.1(1)(h). There the court offset the loss with the value of services provided, resulting in a 14, not 24, offense level increase. The District Court reviewed § 2B1.1(b) and (h) and rejected White.

Nagle’s cumulative offense level was 40. When combined with a Zone I criminal history his jail range was 292-365 months. Nagle received eighty four (84) months in prison. No restitution was ordered. The court concluded the Government received what it paid for in the contracts. United States v. Nagle, 2014 U.S. District Lexis 63033 (M.d.Pa. May 2014).

In reversing the District Court’s loss calculation of $54 million against Nagle, the appeals court focuses on the concepts of fraud and theft, not the USSG. In theft cases, a victim’s loss is equal to the value of the theft for which nothing is received in return. Here, a loss calculation is truly a gage of the injury inflicted.

In fraud cases, however, value passes in each direction of the transaction. Real estate secured through fraud still possesses value which can be sold to mitigate a victim’s losses. The court recognizes this analysis is an accepted ‘value of loss’ mitigation tool in mortgage fraud jurisprudence. Since 1999 the Third Circuit has also applied net loss to federal procurement fraud cases; the value of components provided reduces the § 2B1.1(b) actual loss value calculation. In adopting this reasoning to DBE fraud cases, the appeals court daftly reasserts District Courts’ authority to determine loss outside the constraints of the non-scientifically derived, and now discretionary, sentencing guidelines.

The court did comply with its obligatory responsibility of evaluating USSG definitions. After a lengthy analysis of the parties’ positions, the court rejects the government’s and Congress’ one size fits all (you stole therefore you disgorge) windfall argument. The court turned to § 2B1.1 cmt.n.3(E)(i) to buttress its fraud based conclusion that credit must be given for services and goods provided. The Court also rejects the government’s argument that solely because SPI and CDS were not the intended beneficiaries of the DBE program they could not render a valuable service.

The court’s fraud analysis compels its ruling that in DBE cases value of loss is reached only after subtracting the fair market value of labor and materials rendered and of transporting and storing the materials. This is momentous. In DBE fraud prosecutions, the government must now conduct pre-indictment contract profit analysis. Profit size and distribution, shareholders versus private corporate owners, could become a major factor in the decision to criminally charge corporate officers in DBE and other government fraud cases.

For several years district courts have enjoyed renewed latitude in sentencing defendants. Noteworthy judicial objections to specious mandatory minimum sentences and unscientific USSG offense level enhancements appear in opinions and newspapers monthly. Nagle follows this trend by limiting the Guideline’s and Congressional intent to punish through vastly overvaluing a monetary benefit to individual corporate officer defendants based solely upon the gross value of the government contract. In Nagle the Third Circuit gives district courts more sentencing authority by eliminating mandatory judicial compliance with USSG policy of exorbitant sentences enhancements randomly assigned from monetary value that lack any relation to an appropriate sentence.

Offense level calculations typically determine the high water mark of a defendant’s potential sentence. Nagle is noteworthy because it limits Guideline escalation of offense levels through arbitrary enhancements which raise suggested time of incarceration. This restriction, in turn, reinforces district courts’ sentencing discretion to vary or depart downward because that analysis will now simply start at a lower offense level. Nagle invigorates the argument that speciously derived and arbitrary USSG enhancements pursuant to the § 2B1.1(b) monetary loss figures will no longer dictate district courts’ sentences.

Nagle furthers the Supreme Court’s goal of bringing equity and sensibility to sentencing decisions. The gross cost of government contracts, for which services and goods are properly rendered, is now appropriately excluded as a basis for sentencing enhancements. To the extent the government, and thus the country’s citizens, receive the ultimate intended benefit of the federal transportation highway program (properly designed and built roads, bridges, and mass transit) the government is not entitled to a windfall and not pay for the services. Only illegally secured profits will factor into a sentencing scheme.

Why Legalization of Pot Will Not and Should Not Work

Trending successes in the quest for the legalization of medical marijuana screeched to a halt today, stopped by our nation’s citizens’ right to be safe in hospitals, highways, and other professional endeavors. The Colorado Supreme Court, in Coats v. Dish Network, affirmed an employment related firing of a Dish Network employee who tested positive for marijuana, in violation of the company’s zero tolerance drug free work place rules.

Mr. Coats a quadriplegic,  wheelchair bound his teen years. Current medical conditions cause continued suffering, warranting in home legal medical marijuana use consistent with his lawfully secured pot license and Colorado State law. Coats, however, secured a job as a telephone customer service representative (not even a driver servicing homes), who tested positive for THC in a random Dish Network employment related drug test.  He was summarily fired.

Coats filed suit, claiming his registration as a medical marijuana patient excused his legal, private, medical-based drug use under Colorado State law. He claimed Colorado’s employment related statute protected his “at least lawful” medical marijuana use. The Colorado Supreme Court rejected this claim.

Dish network, similar to many other employers across the country, has a zero tolerance drug testing policy. The language of the policy states that any drug use must be “lawful activity”. This means you must have a prescription for a legal medication identified as such under federal DEA regulations. Pot is not one of them. The Colorado Supreme Court determined that because medical marijuana is a state right and not a federal “lawful” activity, Dish Network properly terminated Coats for violating its legal work place rule.

A random employment relate drug test in many companies around the country – in pot legal states or not – will, typically, reveal personal, medicinal or not, marijuana use. Employment termination for violating companies’ drug policy happens every day.  The issue here was Coats’ allegations of wrongful termination stemmed from his state based lawful activities off the premises. The Colorado Supreme Court rightly rejected this argument.

The court reviewed the basic premise that under federal law marijuana use and possession is still not lawful. The court contrasted this premise with Colorado’s medical marijuana laws that recognize medical marijuana use as lawful. The court concluded, however, that the supremacy of federal law still makes any medical marijuana use not “lawful”.

Colorado’s employment related termination statute had not been amended since its legislature created the medical marijuana laws. Consequently, the employment related statute does not identify lawful activity to be that under state or federal law. This is a huge issue.

Coats had to acknowledge the federal Controlled Substance Act prohibits medical marijuana use, (identifying it as a Schedule I narcotic having no medical excepted use, a high risk of abuse, and a lack of excepted safety). The court referenced federal allowance of pot use in research projects, but no exceptions for medicinal or personal use. Clinging to the Supremacy Clause, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the because of the federal proscription of medical marijuana, Coats’ medical marijuana use was unlawful under federal law, and, therefore unlawful under Colorado’s employment related termination statutes. Unless state law is explicitly altered to preclude termination based upon state law and not general “lawful activity”, Federal law controls in this area of employment related litigation.

This is a clear public policy statement. Coats is the perfect plaintiff. His medical condition is clear and his does not work in public safety position. Nonetheless, the court’s rejection of the state based legal pot defense, enforcing a very vanilla drug free work rule utilized by a national company against a quadriplegic, is a clear message — companies that want a drug free work place can have one and our nation’s citizens can fee safe utilizing those companies.

The policy decision and practical implications of this case nationwide and in Pennsylvania are enormous. This interpretation of an employment related statute is congruent with Pennsylvania’s 26 licensing schemes addressing illegal conduct. Currently, any unlawful conduct (testing positive for marijuana use) is already a basis for disciplinary action under various boards’ licensing scheme.

The legalization of marijuana in Pennsylvania would necessarily require a public policy decision to alter each of these licensing schemes and their enforcement mechanisms. It is doubtful such would occur because the Pennsylvania’s professional boards want Pennsylvania’s citizens to know the professionals they rely upon in every day life are drug-free and not impaired by the use of an illegal Schedule I controlled substance.

Said another way, Pennsylvania’s licensing boards want competent, unimpaired professionals in hospitals, nursing homes, medical offices, hospices, builders, architects, accountants, and the like helping and professionally serving Pennsylvania’s residents. Allowing the medical use of marijuana for medical registered non-professionals may proceed. But this will be in conflict with many other citizens rights to receive unimpaired professional services. Employers’ and drug-free citizens’ rights will trump the minority who wish to get high on pot.

Conservative state legislatures will continue to enforce employers’ right to have a drug-free workplace. This will allow employers to utilize the federal policy on pot to insure a safe workplace staffed by unimpaired, drug-free workers. Whether it be on our nation’s highways, union workers building bridges, buildings, or professionals caring for our nation’s sick, states will continue to demand lawful, unimpaired workers staffing these jobs. Employers will choose unimpaired, drug-free workers who choose professions over drug use.

The legalization of pot should not and will not change this broader policy consideration. The wants of the few will not out-weigh the needs of the many when balanced against public safety.

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