Skip to comments.Court OKs Limited Drugging of Defendants
Posted on 06/16/2003 7:50:31 AM PDT by bedolido
Supreme Court Rules There Are Limits on When Government Can Forcibly Drug Criminal Defendants
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that there are limits on when the government can forcibly medicate mentally ill criminal defendants to make them well enough to stand trial for fraud or other charges.
The 6-3 ruling, a defeat for prosecutors, means that the government will have to revise a common practice now of putting defendants on anti-psychotric drugs for their trials. Justices said that the Constitution allows the government to administer drugs only "in limited circumstances."
The case required the court to balance the government's interest in punishing nonviolent crime with a person's constitutional right to control his or her body.
Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, said that courts in considering individual cases must decide if involuntary medications "will significant further" interests in punishments.
The federal government puts hundreds of defendants on medication each year to make them competent to stand trial. Most take the drugs willingly. In a recent 12-month period, 59 people were medicated against their wishes and about three-fourths were restored to competency, the government has said.
In a series of decisions more than a decade ago, the Supreme Court ruled that inmates considered dangerous could be forced to take medication and that defendants in criminal trials could be required to take drugs if it was medically appropriate.
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Rulings like this are going to be the death of constitutional protections. The Constitution either protects, or it doesn't protect - that is, a right either exists or it doesn't exist. There's no "balance" involved.
What right is this, and how does the War On (some) Drugs mesh with this right?
High Court Limits Forced Medication for Trial
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A divided U.S. Supreme Court put limits on Monday on when the government may force defendants to take anti-psychotic drugs to make them competent to stand trial for serious, but nonviolent, crimes.
By a 6-3 vote, the high court allowed forced medication if the treatment was medically appropriate, substantially unlikely to have side effects that may undermine the trial's fairness and necessary to further important governmental trial-related interests, taking into account less intrusive alternatives.
Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said the standard would permit forced medication solely to make defendants competent to stand trial only under certain limited circumstances.
Breyer said the number of instances may be rare.
The court ordered more proceedings in the case, which involved Dr. Charles Sell, a dentist from a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, who was charged in 1997 with Medicaid and insurance fraud.
Government and defense psychologists diagnosed him as suffering from "delusional disorder, persecutory type." He was found to be suffering from mental illness that made him incompetent to stand trial.
Sell has been held in a mental health facility at a federal prison while awaiting trial. A U.S. appeals court upheld a federal judge's decision that Sell could be medicated against his will so he can stand trial.
Breyer said the appeals court was wrong in approving forced medication solely to render Sell competent to stand trial.
In setting aside the appeals court's ruling, Breyer said the appeals court did not find that the required circumstances existed in this case.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, there recently have been 59 criminal defendants forced to take antipsychotic medication.
In a recent 12-month period, 80 percent of 285 defendants found to be mentally incompetent to stand trial voluntarily accepted medication. Of the remaining 59 who were treated against their will, many of them did not seek judicial review, the department said.
Breyer said Sell had a long history of mental illness dating back to 1982, when he was hospitalized and treated with antipsychotic medication.
In 1997, Sell told law enforcement personnel that he "spoke to God last night" and was told "a soul will be saved" for every FBI person he kills.
In sending the case back for more hearings, Breyer said the lower courts failed to consider whether the medication's side effects were likely to undermine the fairness of Sell's trial.
He said the lower courts also did not consider that Sell already has been confined for a long time, and that his refusal to be medicated might result in further lengthy confinement. Those factors would moderate, but not eliminate, the importance of the government's interest in prosecution, Breyer said.
Justice Antonin Scalia, Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas dissented from the ruling.
"Today's narrow holding will allow criminal defendants ... to engage in opportunistic behavior," Scalia said. "They can, for example, voluntarily take their medication until halfway through trial, then abruptly refuse and demand an ... appeal from the order that medication continue on a compulsory basis."
This may, in fact, be a positive outcome for a defendant if they had committed a crime. If found guilty, they are then sentenced for a DETERMINATE period of time. However, if they are found not competent to stand trial AND they are not treated to regain competency, they are in essence incarcerated for an INDETERMINATE period of time since charges cannot be resolved with an incompetent defendant who refuses to be returned to competency.
Forced medication of defendants is a scary notion in the first place, and it is a power that just begs to be abused. The situation evokes memories of the Soviet Union during the cold war.
Since anyone can be institutionalized and forcibly medicated on the signature of two doctors or one doctor and one next-of-kin(at least in SC), it is difficult to imagine what greater power prosecution and LE would rightly want to have in the forcible administration of mind-altering drugs to defendants in the time before a trial.
The District Court never entered a final judgment in this case, which should have led the Court of Appeals to wonder whether it had any business entertaining petitioner's appeal. Instead, without so much as acknowledging that Congress has limited court-of-appeals jurisdiction to "appeals from all final decisions of the district courts of the United States," 28 U. S. C. §1291 (emphasis added), and appeals from certain specified interlocutory orders, see §1292, the Court of Appeals proceeded to the merits of Sell's interlocutory appeal
. . . .This Court's cases do not authorize appeal from the District Court's April 4, 2001, order, which was neither a "final decision" under §1291 nor part of the class of specified interlocutory orders in §1292. We therefore lack jurisdiction, and I would vacate the Court of Appeals' decision and remand with instructions to dismiss.
Okay, that sounds more reasonable.