Thursday, September 20, 2007

Clemency board can remedy an injustice today


Published September 20, 2007

The governor and Cabinet have an opportunity to right an injustice today. Sitting as the Florida Board of Executive Clemency, these officials will hear the petition of Richard Paey, a Pasco County man serving a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence essentially for trying to treat his own chronic pain. The right thing to do would be to commute Paey's sentence to time served and wipe away his $500,000 fine.

The largely wheelchair-bound Paey has already spent more than three years in prison for the crime of drug trafficking - though he never sold any drugs. As opposed to a drug kingpin, Paey is a patient who obtained large quantities of Percocets, possibly with tampered prescriptions, to address his unremitting back pain.

Even the prison has recognized the extreme pain that Paey suffers - the result of botched back surgery following an auto accident and the effects of multiple sclerosis. A prison doctor has attached him to a morphine pump, which provides Paey with more controlled pain medication than the amount for which he was prosecuted.

The Legislature certainly never intended a person like Paey to be charged and convicted under a statute designed to put away big-league drug traffickers, where mere possession of certain quantities of a controlled substance is construed as trafficking. It is precisely these kinds of anomalies that the state's clemency process was designed to redress.

Paey attempted to have the state courts overturn this miscarriage of justice, but was unsuccessful. In denying his appeal, however, the majority on the 2nd District Court of Appeal suggested that Paey's proper course of action was to seek executive clemency. "Mr. Paey's argument about his sentences does not fall on deaf ears, but it falls on the wrong ears," wrote Judge Douglas Wallace.

In the same ruling, Judge James Seals dissented, saying Paey's sentence for unlawfully obtained medicine for personal use was "illogical, absurd, unjust and unconstitutional."

But because the courts refused to set things right, Paey is now at the mercy of the clemency board. It is heartening that rules were waived to allow Paey to come before the board without having first served one-third of his sentence. Now Gov. Charlie Crist, Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum have to find it in their hearts to do justice in this case. It will take three votes, including the governor's vote, to grant Paey relief.

Paey isn't a dangerous man; he is a sick man. He isn't a drug trafficker; he is a patient. And if our laws can't make the distinction, then our state leaders need to provide the common sense that the law cannot.

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