Prison authorities to continue to medicate Jared Lee Loughner
PHOENIX — A federal appeals court Monday 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.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling clears the way for prison authorities to continue to medicate and treat Jared Lee Loughner.
The court also rejected two other appeals by Loughner’s lawyers over their client’s forced medication.
The 23-year-old has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting in Tucson that killed six people and wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others.
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.
A message left for Judy Clarke, Loughner’s lead attorney, wasn’t immediately returned Monday afternoon.
The appeals court dismissed two other appeals by Loughner.
One of the dismissed appeals sought to overturn the judge’s denial of a challenge by Loughner’s attorneys to a June 14 involuntary medication order.
The other sought to reverse a decision that denied Loughner a court hearing after a July 18 emergency decision by the prison to medicate Loughner.
Neither decision that Loughner’s attorneys sought to overturn are in effect anymore, so the appeals court said they are moot and dismissed them.
By Jacques Billeaud
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