Virginia doctor who prescribed more than 500k doses of opioids granted new trial

Feb 5, 2024, 2:20 PM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia doctor who was sentenced to 40 years in prison after prescribing more than half a million doses of highly addictive opioids in two years has been granted a new trial by a federal appeals court that found the instructions given to jurors at his trial misstated the law.

Joel Smithers was convicted in 2019 of more than 800 counts of illegally prescribing drugs.

During his trial, prosecutors said patients from five states drove hundreds of miles to see him to get prescriptions for oxycodone, fentanyl and other powerful painkillers. Authorities said Smithers headed a drug distribution ring that contributed to the opioid abuse crisis in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

In a ruling issued Friday, a three-judge panel of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated Smithers’ convictions and ordered a new trial.

Jurors at Smithers’ trial were instructed that in order to find Smithers guilty of illegally prescribing drugs, they must find that he did so “without a legitimate medical purpose or beyond the bounds of medical practice.”

But the appeals court found that that jury instruction was improper, citing a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said a defendant must “knowingly or intentionally” act in an unauthorized manner to be guilty of that charge. Even though the jury convicted Smithers in 2019, his case was subject to the 2022 Supreme Court decision because his appeal was still pending when that ruling was issued.

Justice Roger Gregory, who wrote the 3-0 opinion for the 4th Circuit panel, cited Smithers’ testimony at his trial, when he said almost all of his patients had had significant car or workplace accidents and that he believed there was a legitimate medical purpose for each of the prescriptions he wrote. Gregory wrote that even though “a jury might very well not have believed Smithers’ testimony that he acted with a legitimate medical purpose,” the defense provided evidence that could have led to a finding of not guilty on each of the unlawful distribution charges against Smithers.

“In sum, because there was evidence upon which a jury could have reached a contrary finding, the instructional errors were not harmless,” Gregory wrote.

During Smithers’ trial, a receptionist testified that patients would wait up to 12 hours to see Smithers, who sometimes kept his office open past midnight. Smithers did not accept insurance and took in close to $700,000 in cash and credit card payments over two years, prosecutors said.

“We understand the 4th circuit decision following a recent change in the law and look forward to retrying the defendant, ” U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh said in a statement Monday.

Beau Brindley, an attorney for Smithers, did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment on the ruling.

United States News

Palestinians displaced by the Israeli air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip walk through a mak...

Associated Press

Rifts seem to appear between Israel’s political and military leadership over conduct of the Gaza war

In a rare public rift between the country’s leadership, an Israeli army spokesman appeared to question the goal of destroying Hamas.

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Probe finds carelessness caused Jewish student group’s omission from New Jersey high school yearbook

An investigation into how and why a Jewish student group was erased from a New Jersey high school yearbook found the omission was caused by negligence and carelessness, but was not done on purpose or out of malice, the school district announced Wednesday. East Brunswick Public Schools hired a law firm to investigate after the […]

5 hours ago

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday, June 18, 2024, that he wants to restrict students' ...

Associated Press

California governor wants to restrict smartphone usage in schools

Gavin Newsom announced he wants to restrict students' usage of phones during the school day, citing the mental health risks of social media.

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Shooting in Philadelphia wounds 7 people, police say

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Seven people were wounded Wednesday evening in a shooting in Philadelphia, police said. The shooting happened just before 6:30 p.m. in North Philadelphia. The victims include a 19-year-old man who was shot in the leg, a 31-year-old woman shot in the hand, a 23-year-old man shot in the buttock, and two women […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Boaters find $1 million of cocaine floating off Florida Keys

MIAMI (AP) — Recreational boaters found $1 million worth of cocaine floating in the ocean off the Florida Keys. Samuel Briggs II, the acting chief patrol agent of the U.S. Border Patrol, wrote about the find in a social media post on X. Briggs posted video Monday night showing the wrapped packages of cocaine being […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Police credit New Yorkers for suspect’s arrest in the rape of a 13-year-old girl

NEW YORK (AP) — Residents of a New York City neighborhood were praised for their role in the arrest of an Ecuadorian accused of raping a 13-year-old girl, a crime that the city’s police commissioner said “shocked our entire city.” Christian Geovanny Inga-Landi, 25, was arrested early Tuesday outside a deli in Corona, Queens. He […]

9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.


DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

Virginia doctor who prescribed more than 500k doses of opioids granted new trial