Monday, July 31, 2006
Order to Medicate Defendant Held Unconstitutional
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
Psychiatric evaluations that generally recommended “medication” for a mentally incompetent criminal defendant were insufficient to support an involuntary medication order, this district’s Court of Appeal has ruled.
Granting a writ of mandate sought by criminal defendant Robert Carter, Div. Eight Thursday vacated an order by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Barbara R. Johnson directing that Carter be administered antipsychotic medication against his will.
The order violated constitutional and statutory limitations on involuntary medication of incompetent defendants for the purpose of restoring competence, the Court of Appeal held.
At Carter’s arraignment on charges of rape, sexual battery, assault with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment, Carter’s counsel provided Johnson with a psychiatrist’s report stating that Carter was incompetent to stand trial. Johnson in response appointed Dr. Samuel I. Miles and Dr. Jack Rothberg to examine Carter, and suspended criminal proceedings.
Rothberg, who authored the initial report, concluded again in a second report that Carter was incompetent to stand trial because he suffered from schizophrenia and experienced delusional ideas that impaired his thinking and ability to function effectively. In general terms, Rothberg opined that forcibly treating Carter with anti-psychotic medication was medically appropriated and that other treatments would likely not be as effective in restoring his competency.
Miles wrote in a separate report that Carter suffered either from delusional disorder, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder with psychosis, and recommended psychological testing prior to a formal diagnosis. With less certainty than Rothberg, Miles concluded that Carter did not appear competent and that medication might restore his competency if he had either schizoaffective or bipolar disorder.
Defense counsel argued that the reports were insufficient to support involuntarily medicating Carter, because neither provided a clear and specific diagnosis of Carter’s condition or specified the medication to be used or its potential side effects.
After receiving supplemental data from Miles and a letter from Rothberg indicating he had provided all the requisite information, Johnson ruled that Carter was incompetent to stand trial, committed him to Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, and ordered the hospital to administer antipsychotic medication to him.
But the appellate panel concluded Johnson’s order failed to meet the constitutional standard set forth in Sell v. United States (2003) 539 U.S. 166 or related provisions of the Penal Code.
Under Sell, the government may medicate a criminal defendant against his will only upon showing that involuntary medication implicates important governmental interests; will significantly further the state’s interest of timely prosecution and a fair trial; is necessary to further those interests; and is medically appropriate.
The court held that where the reports of Rothberg and Miles only referred generally to “medication,” without discussing the specific drugs that Carter should be prescribed, there was insufficient evidence to establish involuntary medication was in his best medical interests.
Moreover, the justices concluded, there was no evidence that any government interest would be advanced by forcibly medicating Carter.
Justice Laurence D. Rubin, writing for the court, noted that the prosecutor, “remarkably” saying nothing throughout the trial court proceedings, took no position on whether Carter was competent and whether involuntary medication was appropriate.
“Given that three of the four Sell factors require the consideration and balancing of ‘important governmental interests,’” Rubin said, “it is difficult to conceive of a situation where the trial court will have a complete, fair, and reliable record upon which to make its involuntary medication determination without input from the government concerning its interest and how those interest may be affected.”
The only evidence supporting the government interests factors were the doctors’ conflicting diagnoses of Carter and their non-detailed opinions regarding antipsychotic medications, which was simply not enough to justify the infringement of Carter’s liberty interest, Rubin wrote.
Deputy Public Defenders Terry Shenkman and John Hamilton Scott represented the defendant on appeal, while Deputy District Attorneys Lael Rubin and Patrick D. Moran represented the prosecution.
The case is Carter v. Superior Court (People), 06 S.O.S 3971.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company