It was shocking to discover that 500 doses of coronavirus vaccine in late December. When it was discovered that the vaccine wasn’t left out on accident, but was actually destroyed on purpose by a pharmacist who believed conspiracy theories, it made things even worse. Unsurprisingly, Eric Sutherland, the pharmacist who left the vaccine out will be facing criminal charges as a result.
What Charges Could he Face?
While many people consider the vaccines priceless due to their current scarcity, the current market value for the 500 doses he destroyed amounts to $11,000. If the destruction was an accident, it wouldn’t be a crime, but because Sutherland is a pharmacist, he knew that improper storage would result in the vaccines being destroyed and that those who received the vaccine would be put at increase risk.
Sutherland was originally arrested on suspicion for reckless endangerment, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property. But while original reports stated that all of the vaccine vials were destroyed, they were instead sequestered by the hospital after 57 doses were already administered. Because the vials were held for testing to ensure they were actually spoiled, prosecutors are waiting to find out if the vaccines can still be used before filing charges.
Should all the doses be rendered useless, then he will be accused of the charges he was originally arrested for, all of which are felonies in Wisconsin. If the vaccine is still ok though, then he will not face charges for reckless endangerment or adulterating a prescription drug, but may face attempted criminal damage to property, which is only a misdemeanor.
Either way, he will rightfully lose his pharmacist license. Given the severity of the crime, the FBI is also investigating the crime, which means that it is possible he will face charges on a federal level as well.
His Legal Defense
Sutherland admitted to destroying the vaccines because he believed conspiracy theories saying it was “unsafe” and would change people’s DNA. Obviously believing far-flung conspiracy theories is not a defense, but if you suffer from mental illness (which Sutherland very likely does given his belief in these theories), this could help qualify you for diversion programs in California. Even in cases that do not qualify for diversion programs, this can help reduce the likelihood that you will face the maximum sentence for the crime which you have been charged with.
That being said, it’s unlikely that his attorneys will use the insanity defense claiming he was fully unaware of the nature of his actions and unable to distinguish between right and wrong. And that’s not because Sutherland was in his right mind, but because this defense almost always leaves defendants institutionalized for a longer period than they would have been sentenced to were they to go to prison or jail.
Similarly, Sutherland couldn’t use what is known as imperfect self defense, meaning he truly (though wrongly) believed he was working to save the lives of other people, because this defense is only applicable in murder cases because it only knocks the charges down to manslaughter.
If Sutherland does face three felony charges for destroying the vaccines, his attorney’s best defense will probably be negotiating a plea bargain to minimize the charges against him.
This Probably Won’t be the Last Vaccine-Related Crime
While Sutherland is the first person to be charged with a crime related to the coronavirus vaccine, he probably won’t be the last. Going forward, it will be interesting to see if a black market develops for the vaccine if there are shortages of it and what penalties will exist for unauthorized sales of it.
From minor crimes like vandalism, all the way up to serious felonies like those a pharmacist could face for destroying near-priceless covid-19 vaccines, Peter Liss has the experience necessary to help you fight the charges. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.
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