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Loughner's forced medication approved by appeals court

In a 2-1 ruling, federal judges say the Tucson shooting suspect can be treated against his will because of his violent behavior at a prison hospital.

March 05, 2012|By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times
  • Jared Lee Loughner's forcible medication was upheld by a federal appeals court.
Jared Lee Loughner's forcible medication was upheld by a federal… (U.S. Marshals Service )

Tucson shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner can be forced to take antipsychotic drugs while prison doctors try to make him sane enough to stand trial in the attack last year on then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others, a divided federal appeals court ruled Monday.

Loughner's violent behavior at a prison hospital in Missouri justified his forced medication, even though a pretrial detainee might normally have the right to refuse unwanted drugs, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 2-1 ruling.

Loughner, 23, faces 49 felony counts that could lead to the death penalty for the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting rampage outside a Tucson supermarket during an event hosted by Giffords. Six people were killed, including a federal judge, and Giffords and 12 others were injured.

Loughner has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and found incompetent to stand trial. His commitment to a federal prison medical center in Springfield, Mo., for treatment is intended to restore his mental competency.

U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns last month extended Loughner's hospital confinement for another four months, citing significant progress during the previous eight months he had been under prison doctors' care. But Burns hinted that the latest treatment plan, which runs through early June, might be the last he would authorize.

In papers filed with the appeals court, Loughner's attorneys argued that as a pretrial detainee he had the right to refuse drugs he believed could harm or kill him.

Another 9th Circuit panel temporarily suspended the involuntary medication in July, citing case law recognizing the broader rights of a prisoner not yet convicted of any crime.

But doctors at the prison hospital resumed forcibly treating Loughner with antipsychotic drugs just two weeks after the appeals court's temporary injunction, saying his condition had dramatically worsened and medication was necessary to prevent Loughner from harming himself or those around him.

"So long as Loughner is a pretrial detainee, and lawfully held, his rights are limited by the facility's legitimate goals and policies, and his dangerousness to himself or to others may be judged by the same standard as convicted detainees," the divided 9th Circuit panel ruled Monday.

The panel also rejected defense contentions that Loughner had a right to legal representation during prison authorities' deliberation over whether he could be medicated against his will.

Two appointees of Republican presidents — J. Clifford Wallace and Jay S. Bybee — were in the majority, with Democratic appointee Marsha S. Berzon in dissent. Berzon said the court should have considered whether Loughner's rights as a pretrial detainee were being violated by forced medication aimed at restoring his competency, not just sedating him.

carol.williams@latimes.com

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