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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Johnson - 71 F.3d 539 (6th Cir. 1995)


In order to obtain a conviction under 21 U.S.C.S. § 841(a)(1) against a licensed physician, the government must show: (1) that defendant distributed a controlled substance; (2) that he acted intentionally or knowingly; and (3) that defendant prescribed the drug without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the course of professional practice.


Defendant Keithley Johnson was convicted of distribution of controlled substances in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and four counts of mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341. Johnson appealed, claiming that there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions and that the District Court erroneously admitted hearsay evidence. The government cross-appealed Johnson’s sentence. 


Was the evidence presented sufficient to support defendant Johnson’s convictions?




The United States Court of Appeals affirmed defendant's convictions for distribution of controlled substances and mail fraud, holding that the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions. The evidence included testimony that Johnson prescribed narcotics on request, that Johnson, in fear of prosecution, took precautions in prescribing narcotics, and that Johnson exchanged prescriptions for construction work. The Court determined that such evidence could establish that Johnson prescribed narcotics without a medical purpose and outside the course of professional practice. The Court also found that there was sufficient evidence to support findings that Johnson never treated another clinic physician, that Johnson was listed as his treating physician on insurance forms, and that the forms were submitted through the mail. The Court held that such evidence was sufficient for a mail fraud conviction. However, the Court vacated Johnson’s sentence and remanded for resentencing, holding that the district court erred in declining to apply a sentence enhancement for use of a special skill and that before departing downward for Johnson’s medical condition; thus, more factfinding was required.

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