Thursday, March 8, 2012

Los Angeles Doctor Accused Of Second Degree Murder In Deaths of Three Young Men and 20 Felony Counts of Prescribing Without Legitimate Purpose

Photo: Liz O. Baylen, Los Angeles Times
Doctors who prescribe pain medication have been given a warning shot by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office with an aggressive prosecution that made news across the country.

On March 1, 2012, the LADA's Office issued a felony arrest warrant for Hsiu-Ying ("Lisa") Tseng with a $3 million bail request. The felony complaint has three felony counts of second degree murder relating to the deaths of three young men (ages 21, 25 and 29) approximately three years ago.  In addition, Ms. Tseng was charged with one felony count of prescribing drugs using fraud (Health & Safety Code Section 1173(a)) and twenty felony counts of prescribing drugs without a legitimate purpose (Health & Safety Code Section 1153(a)). The case is pending in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

In order to prove second degree murder, the prosecution will need to prove implied malice. The prosecution's current theory is that Ms. Tseng had at least one other patient who died from an overdose before these three other patients die and she was aware that prescribing certain addictive prescription drugs as pain killers could cause overdose deaths. This will not necessarily be an easy theory for the prosecution.

Since this case has had a lot of coverage, what do I find notable about it? First, the case has gone on for almost three years after the deaths of these patients. The search warrant relating to these patients was in August 2010. Thus, these cases take time.

Second, the interplay with the Osteopathic Board is interesting. The Board had filed an Accusation and a Second Amended Accusation against her. On February 29, 2012, Dr. Teng and her attorney signed a Stipulated Settlement surrendering her medical license. The next day the felony complaint was filed. I question whether Ms. Tseng knew that this was coming since the investigators in the criminal case are Medical Board investigators. To cooperate fully by surrendering her license and then having a complaint seeking $3 million bail is heavy handed to say the least.

A review of the Accusation (attached to the Stipulated Settlement) is detailed and shows how Medical Boards are crafting allegations against physicians for cases involving pain medication including standard of care allegations. Any physician who is being interviewed relating to the prescribing of pain medication would be well advised to never be interviewed without counsel and to be fully prepared before any interview. As part of preparation, I recommend that every physician who prescribed pain medication read this Accusation since it outlines the issues that can be raised and the need for documenting informed consent, risks/benefits, explicit treatment objectives, running CURES reports, requiring drug screens, etc.

Third, this case is heavily dependent on undercover officers. The reason that there are so many felony counts of prescribing drugs without a legitimate purpose is so they can have live witnesses in the case. Out of those 20 counts, only 2 of those counts relate to the three deceased patients. All the others related to undercover agents. Any physician who prescribes pain medication needs to be well aware that undercover officers will regularly be sent to their practice.

This case is just beginning and it will take a year or more to resolve these serious allegations. The potential sentence is up to 45 years if she were convicted on all counts but it seems that the DA's Office has charged the murder counts in order to extract a plea agreement on the lesser counts.

Posted by Tracy Green, Esq. Please email Ms. Green at or call her at 213-233-2260 to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation.  Any questions or comments  should be directed to Tracy Green, a very experienced physician attorney and criminal physician attorney at tgreen@greenassoc.comThe firm focuses its practice on the representation of licensed professionals, individuals and businesses in civil, business, administrative and criminal proceedings. They have a specialty in representing licensed health care providers and in criminal related matters in California and throughout the country. Their website is:


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