Judge’s Ruling Could Affect Patient Brokering Cases

Patient brokering at drug treatment centers has become an ongoing issue in the state of Florida. Investigations led by several news outlets have uncovered the real crooked nature of these centers such as the practices at Whole Life Recovery. This has led to numerous legislative attempts to deter large patient-brokering operations, which is a type of healthcare fraud.

Many treatment centers hire “body brokers,” which are people who are paid to look for addicts. These “junkie hunters” are compensated for referring potential patients to their treatment centers. Once the center has admitted the unaware addict, they can then charge their insurance company outrageous rates. Some have even reported drug tests ordered by treatment centers to cost $5,600.

In 2018, State Attorney David Aronberg responded to this issue with the Florida Patient Brokering Act. The new legislation has led to numerous arrests and convictions, which caused a number of drug treatment centers to close their doors.

Since Aronberg’s act, numerous notable drug treatment centers have been linked to patient brokering. Additionally, the act may have also led to a decline in fatal drug overdoses. Aronberg recently presented data from the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner. The data demonstrated a decrease in fatal drug overdoses from 2017 to 2018. The report states the number of opioid-related deaths in Palm Beach had dropped from 588 in 2017 to 326 in 2018.

While the operation has been successful, it comes with some challenges. Some offenders have argued they were unaware of Florida’s patient brokering laws because they’re so new. Others state they were given bad counsel from attorneys when setting up their drug treatment centers. However, the current statute does not list ignorance of the law as an admissible defense. Now, a new ruling by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Laura Johnson may drastically change David Aronberg’s plans.


What Does the Ruling Mean

Johnson’s ruling is for the current case State of Florida vs. James Francis Kigar. The case surrounds a Boynton Beach treatment center operated by Kigar called Whole Life Recovery. Over the last two years, law enforcement officials in Palm Beach County have been investigating allegations of fraud, money laundering, kickbacks and patient brokering related to the center.

Kigar is now facing a total of 95 counts linked to patient brokering and other relevant crimes. He has pleaded not guilty by stating he was unaware of Florida’s patient brokering laws. Kigar claims he was wrongly informed by his attorney to pay kickbacks for referrals. Judge Laura Johnson responded to this case with a controversial ruling.

Johnson stated in a six-page order that, “A defendant may assert the advice of counsel defense when charged with violations of the Florida Patient Brokering statute.” She also ruled the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant was aware their actions were illegal.

Judge Johnson’s ruling is based on a legal term called “mens rea,” which states a person must know what they’re doing is wrong to be charged with a crime. The ruling basically states the defendant must have intended to commit a crime. This is controversial because the issue of intent isn’t included in the current Florida Patient Brokering Act.

Judge Johnson’s new standard could undo many prosecutions sought under David Aronberg. A defendant could escape criminal charges if they’re able to prove the crime was unintentional. The ruling may also drastically change the path of Kigar’s case, which was looking grim beforehand.

The Impact of Judge Johnson’s Ruling

Johnson’s ruling could tremendously affect David Aronberg’s Sober Homes Task Force. It may lead to a number of appeals and dismissals for previous patient brokering cases in the Palm Beach area. In addition, it may establish a new standard in how the State Attorney can prosecute future kickback cases involving drug treatment centers.

Assistant State Attorney Justin Chapman plans to ask Judge Johnson to reconsider her decision. If she denies the request, Chapman may file an appeal with the Fourth District Court. However, there’s been no word of that from the State Attorney’s Office.

Many are hoping the appellate court will untangle Johnson’s ruling to decide the fate of future patient-brokering cases. If Judge Johnson retains her ruling, prosecutors will have a much harder time convicting a person of patient brokering. People who have taken bad advice or were unaware of Florida’s patient-brokering laws will not be legally punished for the crime.
This blog was last updated on March 6th, 2019.

Florida May Pass Stricter Distracted Driving Laws

Cellphones and other electronic devices have become a staple in our daily lives. The majority of the time these instruments help us navigate the world around us. However, many people use their electronic devices recklessly while they’re driving. This has become a dangerous growing trend for the state of Florida. The Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) reported that there were 50,190 accidents related to distracted driving in 2017.

Florida lawmakers are hoping to pass a new bill for tougher distracted driving laws. Current legislation does have a texting-while-driving ban implemented under Section 316.305 of the Florida Statutes. The law itself is controversial though and has been accused of being toothless. This is because Florida is one of only four states that doesn’t allow police officers to pull someone over for looking at their electronic device.

In 2018, a similar bill was sponsored but died while in the Senate. Some representatives believe the reason for this was because the bill wasn’t very clear. It instead focused on making texting while driving a primary offense. The 2018 bill did nothing to address other distracted driving actions such as talking on the phone or perusing social media.

Now, lawmakers are attempting to pass a new proposal to toughen up distracted driving laws. House Bill 112 (HB 112) provides a lot more clarity. The bill addresses all types of distracted driving, not just texting. Some of these include speaking into an electronic device, e-mailing, instant messaging, or reading with your electronic device. If the bill passes, then distracted driving laws in Florida will be significantly stronger. This means more traffic violations for Florida residents and possible charges for multiple offenses.


What Does the Bill Say?

House Bill 112 amends and adds new provisions to Section 316.305 of Florida’s Statutes. The section would be renamed from “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law” to “Florida Ban on Wireless Communication Devices While Driving Law.” The purpose of this is to incorporate all distracted driving devices such as electronic watches or tablets.

If HB 112 is approved, then you wouldn’t be allowed to use a wireless communication device at all. Even speaking into the device could result in a nonmoving violation. The only acceptable way to utilize your wireless communication device under HB 112 is if it’s in “hands-free” mode. Basically, if you’re holding your wireless communication device you could receive a nonmoving violation.

The bill is very similar to legislation active in California. Both Senate Bill 1213 and Senate Bill 28 were enacted into law in July 2008, so the legislation has been in effect for nearly ten years. While distracted driving has declined, the problem unfortunately still exists. A press release by the California Highway Patrol stated there were 97,000 citations issued for distracted driving in 2017. Data also indicates 22,000 drivers were involved in distracted driving collisions that year.


The Problem with HB 112

Distracted drivers cause serious injuries and sometimes fatalities every year. Florida lawmakers have decided to respond to this issue with stringent legislation. On the surface, this bill seems to be a good idea, but it could also impose an influx of unnecessary citations on Floridians.

If HB 112 passes into law, then police officers could pull you over for simply picking up your phone. The implementation of this law may leave many Florida residents with traffic tickets. People with multiple violations could have issues with their insurance or simply be unable to pay the full cost of the ticket.

What’s even more unsettling is the ineffectiveness of hands-free mode. The National Safety Council argues using a hands-free device requires the same amount of brain processing power as texting and driving. Both activities require the driver to split their attention, meaning you’re just as likely to get into an accident talking on hands-free than if you’re sending an electronic message.

If this is true, then HB 112 doesn’t solve the problem of distracted driving by allowing hands-free. Instead, our legislation would be imposing a law that doesn’t lessen distracted drivers and requires officers to waste time issuing unneeded tickets.

It’s important we keep Florida roads safe. However, it’s just as imperative we implement thoughtful legislation that attacks every avenue of the problem. We’re still unsure of the fate of HB 112 and it’s possible amendments. Hopefully, Florida lawmakers will alter the bill so it can effectively tackle the issue of distracted driving.
This blog was last updated on March 6th, 2019. 

Florida May Lift Ban on Smokable Medical Marijuana

In 2016, Amendment 2 or the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative was approved into law by voters. The legislation allows Floridians to use medicinal cannabis for certain conditions such as glaucoma, epilepsy and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Although Amendment 2 legalized medical marijuana, it still doesn’t allow patients to smoke it.

Currently, Florida law only permits patients to consume marijuana in four ways. You can ingest cannabis pills, use tincture forms, apply a topical cream or inhale the substance through a vaporizer. Unfortunately, Florida still has a smoking ban on all medical marijuana products. It’s impossible to buy cannabis in pre-rolled cigarettes or as a whole-flower from a dispensary.

Now, Florida governor Ron DeSantis is giving legislation an ultimatum. He’s threatened to drop the state’s appeal of a court decision which found the smoking ban violated a constitutional amendment. The republican governor has given lawmakers a deadline to fully address the issue, or he’ll drop the appeal altogether. The court must determine if the smoking ban is unconstitutional or not by March 15th, which is 10 days after the annual legislative session begins.


Why Smokable Marijuana?

Many medical marijuana patients wish they had access to smokable cannabis products. The reason for this is because of the different effect smoking marijuana has in comparison with vaping or ingesting it orally. When you smoke marijuana, you’re burning the whole plant. Therefore, all the chemical compounds and terpenes found in the cannabis will turn into an inhalable smoke.

Vaping or ingesting marijuana orally creates a different outcome. If you’re vaping, then you’re consuming whatever compounds of the plant the manufacturer put into the oil. This means you may not be as affected by vaporizing as you would if you smoked the whole-flower. Orally ingesting marijuana is effective but can take up to an hour to finally work.

Because of this, some medical marijuana patients believe they’ll fare much better on smokable marijuana. They claim the concentrates and oral forms of medical marijuana are not powerful enough to soothe their medical condition. If the smoking ban on medical marijuana is lifted, then patients would have more freedom in how they choose to consume their medicinal cannabis.


How Likely Is It Florida Will Lift the Smoking Ban?

Lifting the smoking ban on medical marijuana is a hot topic on Florida’s Capitol Hill. Senate Bill 182 (SB 182) has already undergone some changes since its proposal on February 13th, 2019. Originally, doctors were required to have a “case review panel” before they’re able to order smokable marijuana products for patients. The doctor would be required to attend a panel run by the Board of Medicine to determine if their patient requires smokable medical cannabis.

This was withdrawn, however, when Representative Ray Rodrigues offered an alternative proposal. Instead, doctors would provide documentation which proves the patient would benefit from smoking medical marijuana. The doctor would then be required to submit these documents to the state Board of Medicine rather than appear in front of a case review panel.

Rodrigues’s amendment also requires dispensaries to sell smokable marijuana in pre-rolled cigarettes. If implemented, the amendment would ban patients younger than the age of 18 years old from smoking medicinal cannabis. Both of these provisions were added to address concerns about the negative health effects associated with smoking.

The sponsor of the bill, Senator Jeff Brandes, added an amendment to the bill. Children who wish to smoke medical marijuana must obtain approval from a pediatrician. The only exception to this is if they’re terminally ill. Additionally, Brandes’s amendment would allow people in nursing homes, hospices, and assisted living facilities to smoke medical cannabis.

The subject of smokable medicinal marijuana is a hot topic with a possible resolution in sight. Jeff Brandes stated to The News Service of Florida after the Senate committee meeting, “We’ll ultimately find a place to land this… I think the March 15th deadline no longer seems out of reach.” The bill may seen controversial, but it has a lot of unexpected support. There’s a large likelihood that smokable medical cannabis may be on the market within the next year.
This article was last updated on March 6th, 2019.