Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Panel Upholds Forced Medication of Tucson Shooting Suspect
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday upheld a district judge’s ruling allowing federal authorities to forcibly medicate Tucson shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner.
The court said there was sufficient evidence that Loughner is dangerous to himself and others, and that the compelled use of psychotropic drugs will likely render him competent to stand trial for the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting that killed six people, including John Roll, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.
The 23-year-old has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the shooting. In addition to the six dead, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others were wounded.
Loughner is now being detained at the federal government’s prison medical facility at Springfield, Mo. , where he was examined last March and found incompetent to stand trial due to schizophrenia. U.S. District Judge Larry Burns of the Southern District of California, who has been specially assigned to hear the case, ordered that Loughner be committed to the Springfield facility pending restoration to competency.
After Loughner refused to take his medication voluntarily, a series of administrative hearings were held at the facility, presided over by an independent psychiatrist. On each occasion, the psychiatrist found that Loughner met the standard for involuntary medication.
Lougner was removed from a court hearing last May 25 court when he lowered his head to within inches of the courtroom table, then lifted his head and began a loud and angry rant. But his psychologist has said that since Loughner has been forcibly medicated, his condition has improved. He sat still and expressionless for seven hours at a hearing in September.
Loughner is currently scheduled to leave the Springfield facility on June 7, but that can be extended.
Even though psychologists have said Loughner’s condition is improving, his lawyers have vigorously fought the government’s efforts to medicate him. This summer, the appeals court temporarily halted Loughner’s forced medication, but it resumed once mental health experts at the prison concluded that his condition was deteriorating further.
Loughner has demonstrated bizarre behavior since his arrest.
The defense challenged Loughner’s forced medication, and asked the judge to conduct his own evidentiary hearing on the need for it, which Burns denied.
On appeal, the defense argued that because Loughner is a pretrial detainee and not a sentenced prisoner, a higher due process standard should apply to the forced medication decision. Loughner’s attorneys also argued that due process requires a judicial, not merely administrative, hearing to determine whether forced medication should continue.
But Judge Jay Bybee, writing for the panel yesterday, said the district judge’s rulings were correct.
He cited Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210 (1990), which held that the state had a compelling interest in alleviating the dangers represented by psychotic inmates by forcing them to take medication “if the inmate is dangerous to himself or others and the treatment is in the inmate’s medical interest.”
Bybee noted that the Harper court left it to prison officials to decide whether an inmate meets that standard. Because the decision is a “penological and medical one,” Bybee said, the district judge properly deferred to the prison medical staff in rejecting Loughner’s request for a judicial hearing on the issue.
The jurist did express concern that Loughner’s assigned advocate for the prison hearings, a licensed clinical social worker, might not have provided adequate assistance. But any deficiency was cured because Burns held an extensive hearing after the last administrative hearing, Bybee concluded.
Senior Judge Clifford Wallace concurred separately, agreeing with Bybee on all issues, other than to say that the discussion of the LCSW’s representation was unnecessary.
Judge Marsha Berzon dissented.
“As I cannot agree that Loughner may be…committed [to the prison medical facility] without a judicial determination as to the propriety of involuntary medication and because, even on the majority’s approach, I see several deficiencies in the administrative proceedings conducted by the medical center’s physicians — I respectfully dissent,” Berzon wrote.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company