Laurence Doud is charged with a conspiracy to violate the Controlled Substances Act – drug trafficking – in the Southern District of New York. Doud is not your typical narcotrafficker. He is the CEO of a pharmaceutical company. This is a novel prosecution seeking to pierce the corporate boardrooms and pressure pharmaceutical executives in the fight against the opioid crisis.
Doud is accused of directing his company, Rochester Drug Co-operative, Inc. (“RDC”) to supply large quantities of opioids to pharmacies that were suspected of dispensing the opioids illegally. The government alleges that Doud ignored warnings from his compliance department that RDC was selling opioids to pharmacies that were distributing them illegally. Because Doud is charged with drug trafficking, the government has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Doud intentionally and knowingly engaged in this conduct, i.e., the government will have to proof that there was simply no way that Doud did not know that the drugs were being dispensed illegally.
In a motion to dismiss, Doud argued that he had no way of knowing he could be charged with a narcotics conspiracy for his conduct. The court rejected this argument, but it could ultimately be a feature of his defense at trial.
The problem for Doud is that given the magnitude of the opioid crisis, it will be highly likely jurors will have been affected or know of someone who has been affected by this crisis in some form or another. Furthermore, the opioid crisis and any connection to it has very negative connotations. Even worse, the government will surely call witnesses in its case that have suffered from opioid addiction. While an appellate court may find that Doud should not have been charged with drug trafficking, jurors may still choose to convict given the very nature of the offense.