Prison doctors may force antipsychotic drugs on Jared Lee Loughner, because his mental condition makes him a danger to himself, a federal appeals court held Monday. Loughner is the young man accused of killing six people and trying to assassinate U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel also made it easier to use forced drugging in the future on convicted inmates and pre-trial detainees.
In the split decision, 2-1, the court said a judge doesn’t even have to be involved when the question is whether a prisoner, even a pre-trial detainee such as Loughner, is a potential danger to himself or others. That determination can come from prison medical staff without violating Loughner’s constitutional due process rights.
Only a question of mental competence to stand trial must go before a judge, the panel wrote.
The U.S. Supreme Court has said pre-trial detainees may be given antipsychotic drugs against their will but only after a judge has made a determination that it is appropriate.
Loughner, 23, has not yet faced a compentency hearing. The current use of drugs against his will is based on the decision in June by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns of San Diego that Loughner is a danger to himself.
Judge Marsha Berzon dissented. She said, “What the majority holds is that the district court correctly abdicated to Loughner’s prison physicians the responsibility to determine whether he is to be restored to trial competency through involuntary medication.”
She said Loughner cannot be committed without a judicial determination of the propriety of involuntary medication.
He was accused of the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting rampage outside a Tucson supermarket that wounded Giffords, killed six others and wounded 13 people. Among those killed was U.S. District Judge John Roll.
Case: U.S. v. Loughner, No. 11-10339