Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Doctor's Good Faith Relevant in Drug Cases; Objective Standard Required

US v. Hurwitz: Hurwitz was a physician in Virginia who specialized in treatment of pain, particularly through the use of various narcotics. After some of his patients were busted for selling prescription medications, the investigation led back to Hurwitz. He was charged in a massive indictment with a drug trafficking conspiracy, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, healthcare fraud, two counts each of drug distribution resulting in death and serious bodily injury, and 54 other distribution counts.

Prior to trial, Hurwitz sought to suppress evidence seized during the search of his office because the specific items to be seized were not set forth in the warrant itself, but in an attachment to the warrant application, and that the seizure of patient files was beyond the scope of the warrant. The district court denied the motion. At trial, Hurwitz argued that he acted in good faith towards his patients and was therefore not guilty of the charges. The district court declined to give Hurwitz's instruction regarding good faith on the drug charges, but did give one on the health care fraud charges and specifically instructed the jury not to consider good faith on the other charges. Hurwitz was convicted of most of the charges related to drug distribution, but was acquitted on the healthcare fraud charges.

On appeal, Hurwitz raised objections to the district court's denial of his motion to suppress and its failure to give a good faith instruction on the drug charges

The Fourth Circuit rejected the search issue, holding that the particular items to be seized were adequately set forth in an attachment to the warrant application that was incorporated by reference into the warrant. Specifically, the court held that it did not matter that the attachment was not present with the warrant when the search took place.

On the instruction issue, the Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred and reversed Hurwitz's conviction. First, the court held that held that good faith generally is relevant to prosecutions of doctors for drug violations where whether the doctor's actions were not for legitimate medical purposes was an issue. Second, the court held that Hurwitz's proposed instruction was an incorrect statement of law and properly rejected by the court because it propounded a subjective, rather than objective, standard of good faith. However, the court held that the district court still erred because it limited the good faith instruction it did give to the healthcare fraud charges. Finally, the court held that the error was not harmless and required reversal.

Judge Widener dissented on the good faith issue, arguing that "I do not believe good faith should be objective; the two terms are contradictory, it seems to me." He would have approved the instruction offered to the district court by Hurwitz.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has coverage of the case here.

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