Friday, April 28, 2006

Rush Limbaugh -- Not Guilty

That's the truth. In what is certainly an odd plea agreement, Rush Limbaugh filed a "Not Guilty" plea to one count of "Doctor Shopping" in his case involving his addiction to prescription drugs. According to MSNBC, in a somewhat mistitled article Limbaugh surrenders on drug charge:

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Rush Limbaugh and prosecutors in the long-running painkiller fraud case against him have reached a deal calling for the only charge against the conservative commentator to be dropped if he continues treatment, his attorney said Friday.

Limbaugh was booked on a single charge that was filed Friday, said Teri Barbera, a spokeswoman for the Palm Beach County Jail. He left about an hour later, after Limbaugh was photographed and fingerprinted and he posted $3,000 bail, Barbera said.

The radio giant’s agreement to enter a diversionary program ends a three-year state investigation that began after Limbaugh publicly acknowledged being addicted to pain medication and entered a rehabilitation program.

The charge of "doctor shopping" is not technically a "drug charge", although the normal reason for doctor shopping is to obtain prescriptions for re-sale or abuse. Also, he did not agree to "enter" a program, he agreed to remain in the program he is already in.

But it isn't until later in the article that they reveal what is probably the most important point. Normally, in a plea agreement, the accused pleads guilty to some charge, which the agreement allows to be dropped at a later time.

In fact, this wasn't a "plea agreement" at all, because there was no guilty plea entered:

Limbaugh pleaded not guilty Friday to a charge of fraud to conceal information to obtain prescriptions. Though he steadfastly denies doctor shopping, the charge will be dismissed in 18 months if Limbaugh complies with court guidelines, his lawyer Roy Black said.

“Mr. Limbaugh and I have maintained from the start that there was no doctor shopping, and we continue to hold this position,” Black said in an e-mailed statement.

Limbaugh spokesman Tony Knight said the commentator signed the agreement Thursday, and that it called for him to enter the not guilty plea. “It’s not in the system moving toward trial. It was all a formality. It’s a concluded deal,” Knight said.

Note the devious use of the word "though" in the first paragraph -- usually it signifies a contradictory clause, but in this case it simply separates to independent items. First, Limbaugh pleads not guilty, and Second, the charges will be dropped.

However, there is an interesting kicker in this deal -- Rush agreed to pay the costs of the investigation for the prosecution. Of course, for Rush, $30,000 is nothing -- it would have cost a lot more to keep his attorney on retainer for a trial. But it will open him to charges of buying justice -- how many of us could afford to pay that much to get charges dropped?

On the other hand, prosecuters rarely go after first-time offenders who are addicted to pain pills as a result of treatment, especially when they have voluntarily entered rehabilitation.

So Rush can tell his fans he's "not guilty" -- clearly he is, as that is what he plead, and no court case is pending. And those who hate Rush can say he paid a fine (the $30,000 is not listed as a fine), and therefore "admitted guilt".

My guess is, if the prosecuter really thought he could make a case, he would have pursued it. And if Rush was absolutely certain of being found innocent, he probably would have fought it just to be able to say he was FOUND not guilty.

On the other hand, Rush probably would lose a mint having to show up in court to fight the charges, so this is probably what victory actually looks like -- meaning this is probably a BETTER outcome for Rush than even going to trial and being found innocent.

After all, a trial itself bears a stigma of guilt, even if a jury rules otherwise.

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