Appellate Court Throws Out Casper Doctor’s Drug Convictions
The federal appeals court in Denver threw out the convictions of Casper Dr. Shakeel Kahn accused of overprescribing powerful pain medication and ordered a new trial for him.
Friday's ruling from Denver's 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upended the case that began in the spring of 2016, Kahn's arrest in late 2016, indictment in early 2017, and the ongoing investigation, the 20-day trial in 2019 and subsequent sentences -- 25 years for Kahn -- and 15 years for his brother Nabeel.
Kahn, a pain management physician, lost one circuit court decision in February 2021, but won the second on Friday.
After Kahn's sentencing in 2019, he appealed, arguing that the search warrants violated the Fourth Amendment; that he was wrongfully convicted under the laws about prescribing controlled substances; that the judge did not properly instruct the jury about his and Nabeel Kahn’s acting in good faith; the judge did not properly instruct the jury on his intent; and that the evidence was not sufficient to convict Nabeel of conspiracy.
The appellate judges then ruled the evidence presented in the Wyoming federal court trial was overwhelming in proving the Kahns’ guilt.
Kahn then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and focused specifically on the jury instructions during his trial.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the government needed to prove that doctors accused of overprescribing medication intended to act -- the legal term being mens rea ---without authorization.
The federal law says "... it shall be unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally -- " "to manufacture, distribute, or dispense ... a controlled substance...."
The three appellate court judges -- Scott Matheson, Mary Beck Briscoe and Joel Carson -- who ruled on the case cited the Supreme Court's opinion that the jury instructions used terms about whether Kahn acted "in good faith" are impermissible because they referred to the mental state of a "hypothetical 'reasonable' doctor, not on the mental state of the defendant himself or herself."
A major issue, then, was whether Kahn "knowingly or intentionally" prescribed the drugs without a legitimate medical purpose.
Friday, the three appellate court judges ruled unanimously for Kahn.
They summarized the history of the case, the Supreme Court's ruling, the override of the appellate court's previous decision, and sending it back to the appellate court for further consideration.
In their summary of Friday's 24-page decision, the judges wrote "we conclude that the jury instructions issued in Dr. Kahn's trial incorrectly state the mens rea requirement of [the federal law] and further, that such error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. This prejudicial error infected all of Dr. Kahn's convictions."
The 10th Circuit then sent the case back to the Wyoming U.S. District Court for a new trial.
The verdict in May 2019 ended a three-year investigation after the Wyoming Board of Pharmacy had questions about Shakeel Kahn's apparent prescribing high amounts and doses of painkillers that seemed to be outside the usual standard of care.
Federal and state law enforcement agencies took over in the spring of 2016.
Prosecutors filed an initial criminal complaint against defendant Paul Beland in November 2016.
The crimes from January 2011 through November 2016 comprised the heart of the first count of the 23-count indictment with the Kahn brothers and three other co-conspirators -- Shakeel's wife Lyn, Shawnna Thacker and Beland. Those three co-conspirators pleaded guilty to this and other charges in exchange for testifying for the prosecution and reduced sentences.
Included in the conspiracy count for the Kahns was the charge that their distribution of those drugs resulted in the death of Arizona resident Jessica Burch in 2015.
The other crime with the stiffest penalty facing Shakeel Kahn was operating a continuing criminal enterprise, conviction of which was punishable by 20 years to life imprisonment.
The indictment also named five counts of dispensing oxycodone, three counts of possession with intent to distribute oxycodone and aid and abet, six counts of unlawful use of a communication facility, three counts of dispensing oxycodone and aid and abet, and two counts of money laundering.