Bad news for people who buy prescription painkillers online (without a valid prescription) from bogus pharmacies. Also, good news for the same people. We'll start with the bad.
UPS has agreed to pay the government a fine of $40 million for its role in delivering controlled substances purchased online. The settlement also means that UPS will begin putting measures in place to make sure that you can't get your drugs delivered by them, so don't expect the big brown trucks to keep delivering your little yellow pills. And if you have been getting drugs delivered with UPS, be worried that they'll turn your address over to the DEA.
The good news though is that FedEx is taking the opposite position, not cooperating with the feds, and preparing to defend against whatever criminal action the government brings. FedEx's spokesman said about potential charges, "It is unclear what federal laws UPS may have violated." [WSJ]
We have to agree. The Controlled Substances Act makes it illegal to distribute a controlled substance except under certain exceptions (the normal method for getting a prescription and going to a pharmacy). However, these are specific intent crimes. FedEx would need to know more than the fact that it's services are being used to commit crimes. It would need to know what specific transactions are illegal. It's going to be hard to prosecute when everything is automated and FedEx just delivers a package no questions asked.
They can't be hit with a conspiracy charge either. Anyone who's taken the bar exam should know that the sale of ordinary goods, in an ordinary manner, for an ordinary price does not create a conspiracy, even if the other guy tells you that he's going to commit a crime. Mobster comes in to your hardware store and says "I need a shovel to bury some stoolies I'm about to whack," you can sell him the shovel and there's no problem. BarBri didn't cover the provision of ordinary services, but it's safe to assume the same rule applies.
FedEx taking a stand against whatever the feds throw at them raises one serious question though, ...why did UPS fold so quickly? If the cases were progressing in the same way, and FedEx really doesn't even know what crimes they might be charged with, what was UPS doing? You don't plead guilty before the prosecution even tells you what you're charged with. Sounds like someone's legal counsel was a little bit paranoid. We can't think of anything that causes paranoia.