Appeals court halts forced medication of Tucson shooting suspect
A federal appeals court has ordered a halt to the forced medication of Tucson shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner until it can determine whether the antipsychotic drugs are absolutely necessary and likely to work.
Loughner, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and deemed incompetent to stand trial, faces 49 felony counts stemming from the Jan. 8 shooting rampage outside a shopping mall that killed six, gravely injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and left a dozen others with gunshot wounds.
Lawyers for the 22-year-old suspect being treated at a Missouri hospital for federal prisoners had argued that he shouldn’t be forcibly medicated unless those measures were deemed appropriate after a court hearing. U.S. District Judge Larry Burns ruled last week that Loughner could be forced to take the drugs if he was a danger to himself or others, and that the courts shouldn’t second-guess doctors treating Loughner in hopes of eventually rendering him competent to aid in his own defense at a trial.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, including Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, two days later granted a temporary halt to the involuntary medication of Loughner and ordered the government to explain by 5 p.m. Tuesday why such treatment against a prisoner’s will is necessary. Loughner’s legal team has until Wednesday at 5 p.m. to reply to the government’s argument.
The 9th Circuit panel pointed out in the order made public Tuesday that it had issued an opinion last year in which it deemed involuntary medication “disfavored” and set high standards that must be met to approve it. The court said forced medication can occur only under “rare circumstances” and when an important government interest is at stake, the drugs are likely to restore the defendant to competency and when lesser measures won’t accomplish the same objectives.
The court said the forced medication suspension would remain in effect until it rules on the defense petition for a permanent injunction but gave no indication when that ruling might be made.
--Carol J. Williams
Photo: Jared Lee Loughner in a booking photograph. Credit: U.S. Marshals Service