A Muncie pain clinic doctor convicted of forgery and prescription-related offenses had his petition for rehearing granted Thursday. However, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that while testimony admitted from a Drug Enforcement Administration agent was in error, it was harmless.
William Hedrick was convicted in 2018 of three counts of Level 6 felony forgery after he used a nurse practitioner’s name and DEA registration number to fill out prescriptions to patients for pain medication.
The doctor, who opened a practice in 2008 specializing in pain management, was also found guilty of three counts of Level 6 felony registration offense for having “knowingly or intentionally distributed controlled substances with a federal or state registration number that is fictitious, revoked, suspended or issued to another person.” He was sentenced to two years of home detention.
The Indiana Court of Appeals in May affirmed Hedrick’s conviction https://www.theindianalawyer.com/articles/50442-appeals-panel-upholds-muncie-doctors-convictions when it concluded, among other things, that Hedrick waived his claim for appellate review when he failed to object to the DEA agent’s deposition testimony.
But in William Hedrick v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-01945, the appellate court granted his petition for rehearing on the conclusion that Hedrick objected to the admission of the testimony on hearsay grounds, and therefore did not waive his hearsay claim for appellate review.
Turning to the first factor in Craig v. State, 630 N.E.2d 207, 211 (Ind. 1994), the Indiana Court of Appeals found the challenged complaints by the pharmacies were out-of-court statements susceptible of being true or false. It noted the legitimacy of the DEA agent’s investigation was not a contested issue, and it therefore had, at most, little probative value.
“On the other hand, the DEA Agent’s testimony was relevant as circumstantial evidence of Hedrick’s guilt. Thus, the prejudicial effect of the testimony was great, as it suggested that Hedrick actively participated in the forgery and registration offenses,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the panel.
Finding no reasonable level of assurance that the out-of-court statements were not presented by the proponent or considered by the factfinder as evidence of truth, the appellate panel concluded an abuse of discretion occurred in admitting the DEA agent’s deposition testimony concerning the pharmacies’ complaints. But that error was harmless, it said.
“As noted in our original opinion, the jury could have reasonably concluded that amid the financial struggles of his practice, Hedrick took risks that he otherwise would not, i.e., including applying a signature to prescriptions purporting to be written” by another, the panel wrote.
“For the registration offenses, Hedrick’s claim at trial was that it was illogical for him to sign his own name to a prescription bearing Watson’s name, and that the State’s own evidence proved that it was easy to make such a mistake,” it continued. “Notwithstanding his claim, we found that the State presented uncontroverted evidence that prescription forms for controlled substances must bear the prescriber’s name, DEA registration number, and must also be signed by the prescriber. As the prescribing doctor, Hedrick should have checked the prescription forms and ensured that all details were accurate.”
The appellate panel therefore affirmed its original opinion in all other respects.