United States v. Moore
Annotate this Case
423 U.S. 122 (1975)
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U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Moore, 423 U.S. 122 (1975)
United States v. Moore
Argued October 7, 1975
Decided December 9, 1975
423 U.S. 122
Respondent, a licensed physician registered under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq., was convicted of knowing and unlawful distribution and dispensation of methadone (a controlled substance or addictive drug used in the treatment of heroin addicts) in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), which makes it unlawful for "any person" knowingly or intentionally to distribute or dispense a controlled substance, except as authorized by the CSA. The evidence disclosed that respondent prescribed large quantities of methadone for patients without giving them adequate physical examinations or specific instructions for its use and charged fees according to the quantity of methadone prescribed, rather than fees for medical services rendered. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed the conviction on the grounds that respondent was exempted from prosecution under § 841 by virtue of his status as a registrant and that a registrant can be prosecuted only under §§ 842 and 843, which prescribe less severe penalties than § 841.
Held: Registered physicians can be prosecuted under § 841 when, as here, their activities fall outside the usual course of professional practice. Pp. 423 U. S. 131-145.
(a) Only the lawful acts of registrants under the CSA are exempted from prosecution under § 841. That section, by its terms, reaches "any person," and does not exempt (as it could have) "all registrants" or "all persons registered under the Act." The language of the qualified authorization of § 822(b), which authorizes registrants to possess, distribute, or dispense controlled substances to the extent authorized by their registration and in conformity with other CSA provisions, and which was added merely to ensure that persons engaged in lawful activities could not be prosecuted, cannot be fairly read to support the view that all activities of registered physicians are beyond the reach of § 841 simply because of their status. Pp. 423 U. S. 131-133.
(b) There is no indication in the operative language of §§ 841-843 that Congress intended to establish two mutually exclusive
penalty systems, with nonregistrants to be punished under § 841 and registrants under §§ 842 and 843, the fact that the term "registrants" is used in some subsections of §§ 842 and 843, but not in § 841, being of limited significance. Moreover, the legislative history indicates that Congress was concerned with the nature of the drug transaction, rather than with the defendant's status. Pp. 423 U. S. 133-135.
(c) It is immaterial whether respondent also could have been prosecuted for the relatively minor offense of violating § 829 with respect to the issuing of prescriptions, since there is nothing in the statutory scheme or the legislative history that justifies a conclusion that a registrant who may be prosecuted for violating § 829 is thereby exempted from prosecution under § 841 for the significantly greater offense of acting as a drug "pusher." Pp. 423 U. S. 135-138.
(d) The scheme of the CSA, viewed against the background of the legislative history, reveals an intent to limit a registered physician's dispensing authority to the course of his "professional practice." Pp. 423 U. S. 138-143.
(e) Congress was concerned that the drug laws not impede legitimate research, and that physicians be allowed reasonable discretion in treating patients, but it did not intend to exempt from serious criminal penalties those acts by physicians that go beyond the limits of approved professional practice. Pp. 423 U. S. 143-145.
(f) Where the statutory purpose is clear, the canon of strict construction of criminal statutes favoring the accused will be satisfied if the words of the statute are "given their fair meaning in accord with the manifest intent of the lawmakers." United States v. Brown, 333 U. S. 18, 333 U. S. 25-26. P. 423 U. S. 145.
164 U.S.App.D.C. 319, 505 F.2d 426, reversed and remanded.
POWELL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.