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Remember the Prescription Defense

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In the case of Daniel Shedd versus the State of Florida, Mr. Shedd was convicted of possession of alprazolam and hydrocodone as well as marijuana.  The facts of his case are as follows:

Shedd was pulled over by Florida Highway Patrol officers for committing a traffic infraction while driving his mother’s car. During the traffic stop, the officers asked to search the car after seeing an open container of alcohol.  Shedd agreed to let them do so. The officers found prescription pill bottles containing alprazolam and hydrocodone as well as a small amount of marijuana. Both the prescriptions and the car were in the name of Shedd’s mother.  According to the officers, Mr. Shedd admitted that the marijuana was his, and he told them that he had a prescription drug problem. However, he also told them that the pills belonged to his mother. Shedd was arrested and charged with possession of the pills and the marijuana.

At trial, Shedd’s lawyer argued that the prosecutor did not prove that Shedd legally possessed the pills because they belonged to his mother, as evidenced by their labels and the fact that they were in his mother’s car.  Shedd’s mother testified that at the time he got pulled over, her son was on his way to meet  her and was driving her car with her permission. She said that she had a valid prescription for the alprazolam and hydrocodone, and maintained that both prescriptions were hers and that she put those medications in her car. The prosecutor did not dispute that Shedd’s mother had a valid prescription for both alprazolam and hydrocodone.

Shedd appealed his conviction and argued that his lawyer should have asked the judge to instruct the jury on what is called a “prescription defense.”  According to that particular defense, having a valid prescription for a controlled substance such as alprazolam and hydrocodone is a legal defense to possessing such substances.  Furthermore, the prescription defense is available not only to the person to whom medication is prescribed but also to anyone authorized by that person to hold the medications on her behalf.

In Shedd’s case, he was driving his mother’s car with her permission, and her car contained medication that was prescribed for her.  Therefore, he was legally holding his mother’s pills for safekeeping.  Because of that, Shedd’s lawyer should have asked that the jury be instructed on the prescription defense, and his lawyer’s failure to do so resulted in Shedd’s conviction being reversed on appeal.