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Prescription Drug Conviction Overturned

Mark O’Hara of Dunedin, Florida, has recently been released from prison after spending two years behind bars on drug trafficking charges. He’s not free and clear yet though; he is just waiting to see if the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office will decide to try him again. They haven’t made their decision yet.

Is Mark O’Hara a drug dealer? No. Was he accused of selling drugs? No, it’s not that either. Prosecutors in his case admitted that he was not selling drugs. They also acknowledged that he had legal prescriptions for the 58 Vicodin pills that were in his bread truck.

So what’s going on here? How did this man end up a convicted felon serving a mandatory 25 year sentence?

In 2004, Tampa airport police found O’Hara’s unattended bread truck illegally parked. They searched the truck and found a small amount of marijuana and hydrocodone, which is the generic form of Vicodin.

O’Hara was arrested and charged with drug trafficking. He refused to accept a plea bargain, so the case went to trial.

In court, two doctors testified for the criminal defense that they have been treating O’Hara since the early 1990s for pain related to gout and injuries he sustained in an automobile accident.

O’Hara had spent some time in prison in the 1980s for cocaine trafficking, but in this case prosecutors didn’t allege that he sold any amount of Vicodin to anyone. Instead, they said that under Florida law simply being in possession of 58 Vicodin pills constitutes trafficking.

The jurors who convicted O’Hara were not allowed to consider that it is legal to have Vicodin with a prescription and that O’Hara had a prescription for the drug. At the trial, prosecutors had claimed that that the “prescription defense” was not legal under Florida law and the court agreed.

O’Hara was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 25 years behind bars.

He sold his two condos, his car and his bread business to pay for his appeal but the state seized the proceeds to pay towards the $500,000 fine that O’Hara also received with his 25 year prison sentence.

In June, an appellate court finally did hear the case. Their reaction to O’Hara’s conviction was pretty much the same as any normal person’s would be – they deemed it to be absurd and ridiculous.

Three appellate judges decided that the state’s argument in court against O’Hara would make anyone getting a prescription drug filled a criminal. This is obviously not what the law was designed to do.

It seems likely that O’Hara’s criminal record, the prior conviction for drug trafficking, along with the small amount of marijuana found in his truck with the Vicodin may have fueled the prosecution’s tenacity at his trial. Why else would they push forward with ludicrous drug trafficking charges against this man instead of simply charging him with marijuana possession?

O’Hara was released from jail and was taunted on the way out by a guard who told him he would be back. He left prison with no personal possessions and wearing paper clothes given to inmates who do not have clothes of their own. Col. David Parrish, who runs the prison, approached him in the parking lot outside the jail and gave him $20 for a cab ride and went inside to call a cab for him. When he returned and O’Hara told him how far he needed to go, Parrish pulled another $40 out of his wallet and gave it to him.

O’Hara says he doesn’t know what to think of his freedom yet because he’s not sure how long it will last. Prosecutors will make a decision within 30 days as to whether or not he will be put on trial again.

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