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March 5, 2012

Split Ninth Circuit panel rejects Tucson shooter's effort to end forced medication

As reported in this AP piece, a Ninth Circuit panel today "denied a request by the Tucson shooting suspect's lawyers to halt their mentally ill client's forced medication with psychotropic drugs and end his treatment at a Missouri federal prison facility." Here are more of the details surrounding the ruling:

Loughner is being treated at a Missouri prison facility where he has been forcibly medicated for about seven months in a bid to try to make him mentally fit for trial.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns had ruled that Loughner isn't psychologically fit to stand trial after experts concluded he suffers from schizophrenia. But Burns has said Loughner can eventually be made ready for trial after more treatment in Missouri. His current stay is set to end June 7.

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. He was removed from a May 25 court hearing 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.

At issue is whether prison officials or a judge should decide whether a mentally ill person who poses a danger in prison should be forcibly medicated. Prosecutors said the decision is for prison officials to make, while Loughner's lawyers said it's up to a judge. Thus far, prison officials have made the decision to medicate Loughner.

Loughner's attorneys argued that the decision to forcibly medicate their client solely on the basis of an administrative hearing by prison officials had violated his due-process rights. Prosecutors said Loughner's attorneys are asking Burns to substitute his ruling on whether Loughner poses a danger while in prison with the conclusions of mental health professionals.

"Loughner has made no argument beyond his own comfort level to demonstrate the superiority of judicially directed hearings over medically directed hearings," Judge Jay Bybee wrote in the court's majority opinion. Bybee noted later in the ruling that the prison didn't act arbitrarily in finding Loughner to be a danger to himself and that psychotropic medication was in his best interest.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Marsha Berzon wrote that a judge must be the person to determine whether involuntary medication is justified when the judge is committing a person to such a facility for the purpose of making him or her psychologically fit to stand trial.

The full opinion in this round of US v. Loughner runs a full 117 pages, is available at this link, and includes also a separate concurrence by Judge J. Clifford Wallace.

March 5, 2012 at 06:24 PM | Permalink


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Circuit Court Political Lottery wins case for the GOP

Judge Marsha Berzon
Bill Clinton

Judge J. Clifford Wallace
Richard Nixon

Judge Jay Bybee
George W. Bush

Say what you will, but it's easy to pick for the most part on constitutional issues.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Mar 5, 2012 8:36:58 PM

What happens if he claims consumption of psychotropic drugs violates his religion?

Posted by: C | Mar 6, 2012 12:46:39 PM

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