A federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled today that prison officials can continue to give Jared Loughner, the man accused of a mass shooting in Arizona last year, antipsychotic medicine against his will.
A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by a 2-1 vote upheld a decision by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns to allow the continued forced medication to determine whether Loughner can be made mentally competent to stand trial.
Loughner, 23, is charged with killing six people and injuring 13 others, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, in a gunfire attack on a public meeting Giffords was holding outside a supermarket in Tucson on Jan. 8, 2011.
He is currently being held at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo., where he has been diagnosed as having schizophrenia.
Loughner was originally given forced medication because officials at the prison hospital determined he was a danger to others. His behavior when not medicated allegedly included throwing chairs in his cell, hallucinating, sobbing uncontrollably and yelling.
In late September, Burns ruled that the medication could continue for four months to determine whether Loughner could be made mentally competent to undergo a trial, and on Feb. 8, the judge extended that order for another four months.
Burns did not reevaluate the prison officials’ reasons for mandating the antipsychotic drugs but rather, accepted their determination as a basis for his order.
In his appeal, Loughner argued that before issuing that order, Burns should have made an independent decision about whether the medication was appropriate in his situation.
In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court said prison doctors have the authority to administer antipsychotic medications involuntarily to mentally ill inmates who pose a danger.
Loughner contended, however, that because he is a pretrial detainee and not a convicted inmate, he has greater rights and was entitled to a separate judicial evaluation of the treatment.
But the appeals court majority said the same standard applies to inmates and defendants awaiting trial. It said that since prison officials had already found the forced medication was necessary, Burns did not need to revisit it for purposes of his order.
“Loughner is being medicated for his serious mental illness irrespective of whether he can concomitantly be restored to competency in order to stand trial,” Judge Jay Bybee wrote.
Therefore, the court majority said, the trial judge needed to evaluate only whether there was a substantial probability that Loughner could be made competent to stand trial with additional treatment.
Judge Marsha Berzon said in a dissent that before issuing the order, Burns should have held a hearing to determine both whether the treatment was medically appropriate and whether it could jeopardize Loughner’s right to a fair trial.
Berzon wrote that the treatment appropriate for a pretrial detainee might be different from that needed for a long-term prison inmate. In addition, she said, the judge should look at whether the antipsychotic drugs might hinder Loughner’s right to prepare for trial by sedating him or altering the way his brain functions.
The court majority also rejected Loughner’s claims that his due process rights were violated during the prison hospital proceedings that resulted in the forced medication.
“It is clear that Loughner has a severe mental illness, that he represents a danger to himself or others, and that the prescribed medication is appropriate and in his medical interest,” Bybee wrote.
Loughner’s defense attorneys were not immediately available for comment today.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News