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Court Rejects Use of Drug Database in Criminal Case

May 15, 2014

An appeals court Wednesday tossed out a man's methadone-possession conviction after finding that information from the state's prescription-drug database was improperly used during a Duval County trial.

Police found methadone and Xanax pills in a small bottle attached to a key ring during a 2012 traffic stop of Jermey Gene Hardy. The man contended that the pills belonged to his girlfriend, who later testified she had received prescriptions for both drugs but could only produce the Xanax prescription.

A Jacksonville Sheriff's Office detective then testified about checking the state's prescription-drug database and not finding a record of the methadone prescription. Hardy's attorney objected to allowing the database information to be considered during the trial, contending it was hearsay. But the information was admitted, and Hardy was convicted on the methadone-possession charge. In a 2-1 decision Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned the conviction and said the database information should not have been allowed to be used against Hardy.

"It is one thing to say that the information in the database creates a founded suspicion that justifies an investigation, but quite another to say that it is proof of a fact,'' wrote Judge Philip Padovano, who was joined in the majority by Judge William Van Nortwick. "

It is not intended as proof of a fact and law enforcement officers do not rely on it in that way. Yet that is how it was used in this case. The admission of the database effectively elevated investigative information to the status of established fact."

But Judge Lori Rowe dissented, writing that the database records were the only way police could verify whether a prescription existed.

"In this case, the witness did not (or could not) produce a copy of the alleged prescription and testified that the prescription was dispensed by a pharmacy, which had closed and which existence could not be verified by law enforcement,'' Rowe wrote. "Thus, the database provided the sole means for law enforcement to determine whether a prescription for the controlled substance had in fact been dispensed by any pharmacy to the witness."

The database was created to help curb doctor shopping by prescription-drug users and traffickers. Pharmacies must put information into the database when they dispense prescribed controlled substances.

SCOTT ORDERS MENTAL HEALTH EXAM FOR CONDEMNED KILLER

A panel of psychiatrists will try to determine if a man scheduled to die next month for the murder of his estranged wife is insane.

Gov. Rick Scott this week ordered a temporary stay of execution for John Ruthell Henry, 63, after receiving a letter from the convicted murderer's attorney saying that the lawyer, in the words of the executive order, "has witnessed a significant deterioration in Henry's mental state, and that Henry does not seem to fully understand how close to the end of his life he may be, has hallucinations, and engages in delusional thinking."

Despite his apparent skepticism about the claim --- Scott's executive order says "the facts supporting Henry's alleged insanity are vague and conclusory" --- the governor said he was invoking a section of state law requiring an inquiry into Henry's mental health.

Three psychiatrists will examine Henry on Friday and report their findings to Scott by the end of the day Monday. If Scott still believes Henry is mentally competent to be put to death, the execution will go forward as scheduled on June 18. If not, Henry will be sent to a mental health institution until he is treated and ready for execution.

Henry was convicted in the December 1985 murders of his estranged wife in Pasco County and her 5-year-old son in Hillsborough County. Henry was convicted of killing Suzanne Henry, who was stabbed repeatedly in the throat with a kitchen knife after the two argued in her home over presents for her son Eugene Christian. Henry then took the boy to Hillsborough County. Nine hours later, Henry used the same knife to kill the boy.

Juries in both counties sentenced Henry to death, though the death warrant issued earlier this month refers only to the murder of Suzanne Henry. The murders occurred three years after Henry was released on parole for the 1975 murder of his first wife.

THREE INDUCTED INTO CIVIL RIGHTS HALL

A St. Augustine dentist involved in the 1960s civil-rights movement, an NAACP leader and a labor leader were inducted Wednesday into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame. The names of Robert Hayling, James Weldon Johnson and Asa Philip Randolph will be permanently displayed on the state Capitol's first floor. Hayling, 84, was a dentist and a Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader in St. Augustine during a period when the city was a focus of the civil-rights movement. Johnson, who died in 1938, was a Jacksonville native who became an educator, writer, lawyer and NAACP leader. Randolph, who died in 1979, was a Crescent City native who became a labor leader and activist and played a major role in the 1963 March on Washington.