A Kinston physician must surrender his license as a part of his sentencing for drug trafficking charges.
Dr. Douglas Elry Watford, 60, of Kinston, had already gotten into hot water in March 2015 after he was disciplined by the North Carolina Medical board for violating controlled substance regulations. That same March, he was charged with violating federal regulations. Then he was arrested in April on six counts of illegally distributing hydrocodone and Xanax. The drugs are considered Schedule II and Schedule IV controlled substances, respectively.
On April 8 of this year, Watford pleaded guilty, and in early July a judge allowed him to skip jail time and sentenced him to two years’ probation… under one condition. Watford has to give up his medical license as well as his DEA license to distribute controlled substances. Moreover, he can never seek to get his license renewed – either in North Carolina or any other part of the country.
Understanding the Seriousness of Drug Trafficking
Even as certain drugs are becoming legal in various parts of the United States, drug trafficking is still taken very seriously at both the state and federal levels.
We have explored the definition of drug trafficking in previous posts and written about how a drug trafficking charge can be made based on the amount of drugs in your possession. Case in point: having 10 or more pounds of marijuana will result in drug trafficking charges. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have intentions of using it, smoking it, selling it – 10 pounds equals a trafficking charge.
How serious is drug trafficking taken by lawmakers? Changes were made to sentencing for drug trafficking in 2012, but generally speaking penalties for the offense follow a unique grid based on the type and amount of drugs that are involved.
For example, trafficking 4-13 grams of heroin can result in a class F felony charge. Penalties for this type of conviction include 70-93 months in jail and a fine of up to $50,000. The same punishment applies to 2,000-9,999 pounds of marijuana, or 500-999 units of LSD.
A basic overview of sentencing for North Carolina can be found here. In most drug trafficking cases, a conviction means mandatory jail time.
There are also additional consequences that come with a drug conviction. Often, as in the case of Dr. Watford, medical professionals will have to forfeit their licenses after being convicted of malpractice or other related felonies. Interestingly, any felony offense that is punishable by probation will also require the defendant to give up his or her driver’s license.
So Why Did Dr. Watford Receive No Jail Time?
As we read with the case of Dr. Watford, mandatory minimums and penalties for certain crimes are not always set in stone. Dr. Watford pleaded guilty, and was able to negotiate his sentence by agreeing to unique penalties.
Under North Carolina state laws, mandatory minimums also don’t apply if the defendant “has, to the best of his knowledge, provided substantial assistance in the identification, arrest, or conviction of any accomplices, accessories, co-conspirators, or principals if the sentencing judge enters in the record a finding that the person to be sentenced has rendered such substantial assistance.”
Basically, if you can provide the court with any other information on people who have been trafficking or possessing large amounts of drugs, it may allow you to skip prison time.
Sometimes this option is the best way for you to settle your case. But an experienced drug crimes lawyer will be able to help you defend against your charges and get the best possible outcome based on the specifics of your situation. Once you decide on an attorney, make sure to talk with them about things like plea bargains and alternative sentencing.
Being Charged in North Carolina
Working in medicine is a trusted profession, so penalties for malpractice and wrongdoing while on the job are severe.
By practicing in North Carolina, you run a larger risk of being caught and being disciplined quickly. Why? Because our state takes medical licensing, and issuing penalties for medical malpractice, very seriously.
The North Carolina Board of Nursing, for example, has a staff of 50 people and 8 full-time investigators. If the board receives a narcotics complaint against a member of the nursing profession, they will work to resolve the case in less than four months. Compare that to Georgia, a state with the same amount of nurses, but a board that resolves similar conflicts in 15 months.
Additionally, the North Carolina Medical Board of Physicians consists of 13 members. Watford was disciplined by this board and subsequently arrested by the state in less than 6 weeks.
If you have been charged with drug trafficking or fear that you might be charged with drug trafficking, contact a North Carolina criminal defense lawyer immediately.
About the Author:
Attorney Mike Schlosser represents victims of personal injury, those charged with a crime, as well as those facing traffic charges. A former Guilford County, North Carolina District Attorney, Schlosser has been in private practice at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett since 1983 and has been a member of the North Carolina State Bar since 1973.