Psychiatric Involuntary Drugging Ok’d

The government will have an easier time imposing psychiatric medication on mentally troubled defendants to restore them to competency to stand trial based on a federal appeals court ruling.

It didn’t get much attention last week, but a potentially significant 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision approved the involuntary medication of a defendant from Las Vegas who allegedly sent threatening emails to government officials over his asbestos exposure.

The three-judge panel, which included visiting retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, approved the government drugging of Charles Gillenwater to render him competent to face two counts of transmitting interstate communications and one of sending threatening mail.

O’Connor wrote the unanimous decision.

Gillenwater believed he was exposed to asbestos while working on renovations to he Las Vegas Flamingo Hotel.  He also believed the government was helping to cover up this exposure.  He wrote threatening emails to government employees.

Federal agents went to his home and told him to stop.  He agreed, but two days later started sending them again.  This time agents arrested him and found guns and ammunition in his home.

Gillenwater was found incompetent by a government psychiatrist who recommended medication with haloperidol, which Gillenwater refused.  A second psychiatrist reached the same conclusion about Gillenwater’s competence.

Gillenwater’s own psychiatrist found he was delusional and depressive but said involuntary medication was not effective in treating delusional disorders.

The trial court issued orders to medicate Gillenwater in 2012 and 2013.  It found the government complied with the four factors required: that an important government interest was at stake, that involuntary medication will significantly further that interest, that medication is necessary and administration of the drug was “medically appropriate.”

Gillenwater appealed, arguing the government did not meet all four conditions.

“We cannot conclude that the district court clearly erred in determining that involuntary medication is in Gillenwater’s best medical interest when the potential harms and benefits of the treatment are viewed against the seriousness of his condition,” Justice O’Connor wrote.

The court upheld the 2013 forced drugging order.

Judges Richard Tallman and Carlos Bea joined in the decision.

Case: US v. Gillenwater, No. 12-30379


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