A Kentucky Amish farmer has lost his appeal in a case in which he challenged the government’s authority to regulate his herbal-remedies and to prosecute him on charges of not complying with federal drug-labeling rules.
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of Samuel A. Girod, 58, of Bath County, earlier this month.
Girod made and sold what he described as herbal remedies.
He promoted one product called Chickweed Healing Salve, for instance, saying it could be used in treating skin disorders, sore throats, psoriasis, skin cancer, rashes and poison ivy, according to a court document.
The government charged in an indictment that one of Girod’s products included a bloodroot extract that had a caustic effect on skin, but the product's label did not say that scarring could result.
A federal court in Missouri barred Girod in 2013 from distributing the products until he met certain conditions, including letting the federal Food and Drug Administration inspect his production facility, according to a court document.
However, when FDA inspectors showed up in November 2013, Girod and others allegedly blocked them from doing an inspection.
Girod acted as his own attorney in fighting more than a dozen charges, arguing that his products were not subject to FDA oversight because they were herbal remedies, not drugs as defined by federal law. He also argued that requiring FDA approval for the products infringed on his religious freedom.
Jurors rejected his arguments, convicting him on charges that included conspiring to impede the FDA; failing to register his facility with the agency; threatening a witness to try to keep business documents away from the grand jury; and distributing misbranded drugs.
The jury ruled that the salves Girod distributed didn’t have adequate directions for use. One element of the charge was that he misbranded the products with the intent to defraud or mislead people.
U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves sentenced Girod to six years in prison.
Girod also handled his own appeal.
He argued that Reeves erred by not dismissing the charges against him because his products were not drugs; that Reeves gave improper instructions to the jury; that Girod suffered selective prosecution based on his religion; and that Reeves was biased against him.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court turned away all Girod’s claims.
The panel said Reeves was correct to rule that Girod’s products were drugs under federal law because the determination depends on whether the products were intended for use in the cure, mitigation or treatment of disease.
The labels Girod put on the products said they could be used to treat a variety of conditions, the appeals panel said.
On his other claims, Girod presented no evidence the government targeted him based on his religion, and the jury instructions were proper, the appeals panel said.
Girod cited no facts that would lead an objective person to question Reeves’ impartiality in handling the case, the court said.
Girod became something of a cause for people who saw him as a victim of government overreach. More than 25,000 signed a petition asking to have him released from custody at one point.
He is being held in a federal prison in Pennsylvania, with a scheduled release date in April 2022.