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Forced medication of Jared Lee Loughner OK'd by court

March 05, 2012|By Carol J. Williams
  • Loughner was committed to the federal prison hospital in May after a four-month evaluation period that led to his being diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Loughner was committed to the federal prison hospital in May after a four-month… (Bill Robles / Associated…)

Reporting from Los Angeles — Tucson shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner can be forcibly medicated with antipsychotic drugs, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said prison authorities have the right to treat an inmate who would otherwise be a danger to himself or others around him.

Loughner, 23, has been charged with 49 felony counts in the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting rampage outside of a Tucson supermarket in which six people were killed and 13 others injured, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The congresswoman was holding a meet-the-public event when the shooter attacked.

Loughner’s defense attorneys had objected to his being forcibly treated with antipsychotic drugs. They argued that because he is a pretrial detainee who has not been convicted of any crime that he has the right to refuse medication that he believes could harm or kill him.

The appeals court panel said the issue of pretrial rights versus those of the convicted didn’t need to be addressed in Loughner’s case because his erratic and violent behavior during his now-yearlong stay at a federal prison hospital in Missouri was enough to justify treating him against his will.

Loughner was committed to the federal prison hospital in May after a four-month evaluation period that led to his being diagnosed with schizophrenia.

U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns of San Diego has twice extended Loughner’s commitment to the Missouri prison hospital and authorized treatment aimed at restoring his mental competency so that he can stand trial. The judge last month agreed with the government lawyers seeking to prosecute Loughner that he has made significant progress but remains unfit to participate in court proceedings.

The appeals court also rejected Loughner’s contention that he was entitled to have legal representation during the prison hospital hearing a year ago when his mental competency was decided.

The panel ruling split between two appointees of Republican presidents, J. Clifford Wallace and Jay S. Bybee, and a Democratic appointee, Marsha S. Berzon.

Another 9th Circuit panel had temporarily suspended Loughner’s forced medication last year after his attorneys initially objected. The prison doctors overrode that decision two weeks later, however, citing emergency circumstances that needed to be addressed to ensure the safety of the prisoner and hospital staff treating him.

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