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Legal News: Law Blog - WSJ.com
Government Still Not Cleared to Forcibly Medicate Jared Loughner
By Nathan Koppel
Color us surprised.
We thought it was settled that prison officials could forcibly medicate Tucson gunman Jared Loughner, who is accused of shooting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others earlier this year.
A federal judge last month upheld an earlier decision by prison officials to force Loughner to take anti-psychotic drugs in an effort to try to render him mentally fit to stand trial for the shootings.
But the 9th Circuit late last week halted the forced medication, and yesterday a three-judge panel of the court expressed skepticism that prison officials were legally entitled to administer drugs involuntarily without first getting court clearance, WSJ reports.
The battle over medicating Loughner, who has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic, will be a key factor in determining whether he ever stands trial.
At yesterday’s 9th Circuit hearing, government lawyer Christina Cabanillis said that under a Supreme Court decision, federal prison officials can make a medication decision on their own when they determine that someone in their custody is a danger to himself or others, WSJ reports.
But 9th Circuit judges drew a distinction between a convicted inmate, who was the subject of the Supreme Court decision, and a pretrial detainee, such as Loughner, who has the presumption of innocence.
“Why should someone presumptively innocent not be treated with greater personal deference” than an inmate, asked Judge Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the 9th Circuit.
The judge, according to WSJ, also seemed willing to weigh the potential harm that psychiatric drugs could do to a patient-an argument advanced by Loughner’s attorneys.
Whether a person is an inmate or a pre-trial detainee, Cabanillis countered, “when you are dangerous in a prison setting, you are dangerous.”
The 9th Circuit is expected to rule soon.
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