Earlier this month a Virginia judge declined to prohibit defendant Linda Cheek’s use of social media to advance her personal, professional beliefs relating to her impending trial. According to The Roanoke Times, prosecutors requested that U.S. District Judge, Glen Conrad, prevent defendant, Dr. Linda Sue Cheek, from blogging and tweeting about her legal proceedings for fear that these Internet postings could improperly influence potential jurors.
Dr. Linda Sue Cheek, whose medical license has been suspended now for a second time, is accused of distributing pain medications—including oxycodone, methadone, morphine and hydrocodone—without a license from the Drug Enforcement Administration. Dr. Cheek, however, seems content to use her legal troubles as a platform to end “government persecution of doctors treating pain” and the practice of treating such physicians as though “they are Colombian drug lords.” In January, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennie Waering filed a motion arguing that Cheek’s statements are “inflammatory and could reach potential jurors in the case and create bias.”
The debate surrounding injudicious prescribing of pain medication has sparked legal attention over the past decade. While Cheek argues that her prescriptions were directed only at legitimate patients suffering from chronic and debilitating pain, state medical boards impose restrictions on pain medication to minimize cases of prescription drug abuse and diverting pain medication in the state. Many physicians who specialize in pain management argue that overly reactive medical boards cause doctors to under-prescribe to the average patient. Dr. Cheek has continued to advocate her medical position through her personal website, twitter, and other social media outlets. Eventually her Internet presence became so widespread that prosecutors decided to step in.
The Associated Press reported that in response to the prosecutors’ motions to reign in Cheek’s tweets, Judge Conrad opined “[i]t would be wrong for the court to say [Cheek] forfeits her First Amendment rights when she becomes a defendant.” In denying this motion, Judge Conrad indicated that a First Amendment infringement would be appropriate only if Cheek’s comments were “intended to threaten or intimidate a witness or juror.”
In fact, Cheek's blog reveals very little about the substance of her court proceedings, and she seems concerned about the privacy of the trial: “I’m not going to put anything about the court proceedings here. You have to come and see for yourself. This website is open to the public, so it is inappropriate for me to discuss the proceedings while they are going on.”
While Dr. Cheek’s blogs and tweets seem relatively harmless, the implications of Judge Conrad’s decision could become problematic for both prosecutors and defense attorneys in the future. Where social media communications do prejudice a body of potential jurors, courts could be forced to divert significant funds to ensure an impartial jury pool. Moreover, the potential for social media postings to have a detrimental impact on a defendant’s case raises concerns for defense attorneys representing unruly clients.
Dr. Cheek was convicted on February 22, 2013 of the 172 of the 173 charges she faced.
Posted by Candra K. Baizan on Sun. February 24, 2013 8:15 AM