Montana Court Sets Oral Arguments in Overdose Death Appeal

A western Montana physician is appealing his conviction for negligent homicide in the overdose deaths

By Associated Press

HAMILTON — The Montana Supreme Court will hear arguments in April in the case of a western Montana physician appealing his conviction for negligent homicide in the overdose deaths of two patients.

Chris Arthur Christensen of Florence was charged in 2015 and convicted in November 2017 of two counts of negligent homicide and 20 drug-related charges that alleged he prescribed opioid pain medications to patients without adequately documenting medical purposes, prescribed large quantities of drugs and prescribed drugs in dangerous combinations.

Christensen was sentenced two years ago this month to 20 years in prison with 10 years suspended, but his sentence has been stayed pending his appeal. Christensen, now 72, remains free on bail, the Ravalli Republic reports.

After receiving five extensions, defense attorney Josh Van de Wetering filed Christensen’s appeal in July 2019, questioning, among other things, whether a physician could be convicted of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs “while acting in the course of their professional practice.”

The state also received five extensions before filing its response to the appeal in January.

“Christensen acted outside the course of a professional medical practitioner freely and liberally dispensing dangerous drugs to drug addicts, resulting in the cause-in-fact deaths of two patients,” state prosecutors wrote.

“Victim after victim testified about the ease with which Christensen gave them the drugs, often at their own choosing without Christensen performing even the customary basic tasks that would define his actions as being within the course of professional practice,” prosecutors said.

Christensen has until March 5 to file a reply brief. Justices said they will grant no more extensions and oral arguments will be held April 3 at the University of Montana in Missoula.

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