The Prescription Defense

          In the case of McCoy versus the State of Florida, Cynthia McCoy was charged with committing the crime of trafficking in hydrocodone based upon her possession of a pill bottle that contained Lorcet tablets and that was labeled as belonging to her husband.  Her defense at trial was that she was holding the pills for her husband.


          The evidence presented at Ms. McCoy's trial showed that:


          "[T]he [arresting] officer testified the pill bottle contained two different colors of Lorcet tablets and the bottle, which apparently had been filled the day before for 60 pills, contained only 13 pills. In addition, the arresting officer testified he asked [Ms. McCoy] if she used the pills, and she responded she had used some of the pills in the past.


          To explain these relevant inconsistencies, [Ms. McCoy and her] husband testified at trial the husband took Lorcet pills daily for his back problems and collected the monthly Lorcet prescriptions together in one jar, which remained locked in a safe in their home. The husband explained he would take a small number of those pills and put them in a prescription bottle that his wife would carry for him during the day because his work clothing lacked pockets. In addition, [Ms. McCoy] testified she told the officer she had taken the pills in the past because she had previously been prescribed Lorcet by the same physician."


          In Florida, the "prescription defense" provides that "[i]t is unlawful for any person to be in actual . . . possession of a controlled substance unless such controlled substance was lawfully obtained from a practitioner or pursuant to a valid prescription or order of a practitioner while acting in the course of his or her professional practice . . . ."  This defense is typically used by those who have a valid prescription written directly on their behalf for the pills in their possession.  But in this case, Ms. McCoy did not have a valid prescription written directly on her behalf for the pills in her possession; her husband did.


          The appellate court deciding McCoy's case began its analysis by noting that the words "lawfully obtained" contained in the prescription defense authorize possession of a controlled substance only for those people who have a legally-recognized reason for such possession.  According to Florida law, pharmacies may lawfully dispense medications to a consumer or his agent.  There is also other Florida law which states that a pharmacist may dispense a controlled substance "when the pharmacist or pharmacist's agent has obtained satisfactory patient information from the patient or the patient's agent."


          In Ms. McCoy's case, her defense at trial was that she was holding her husband's pills on his behalf.  If she was in fact doing so, then she was his agent and that, in turn, authorized her possession of those pills.  In other words, her actions were legal.

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