Sell v. United States

(Competence to Stand Trial & Inpatient Commitment, Federal Case)

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No. 02-5664
539 U.S. 166; 123 S. Ct. 2174; 156 L. Ed. 2d 197; 2003 U.S. LEXIS 4594; 71 U.S.L.W. 4456; 188 A.L.R. Fed. 679; 2003 Cal. Daily Op. Service 5131; 2003 Daily Journal DAR 6512; 16 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 359
March 3, 2003, Argued
June 16, 2003, Decided

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: On remand at, Remanded by United States v. Sell, 343
F.3d 950, 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 26859 (8th Cir., Sept. 2, 2003)

OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT. United States v. Sell, 282 F.3d 560, 2002
U.S. App. LEXIS 3582 (8th Cir. Mo., 2002)

DISPOSITION: Vacated and remanded.

DECISION: [***197]

Federal Constitution held, under some circumstances, to permit government to administer antipsychotic drugs to mentally ill defendant against defendant’s will in order to render defendant competent to stand trial.

SUMMARY: In 1997, a federal criminal defendant with a long history of mental illness was initially found competent to stand trial for alleged fraud and was released on bail. However, his bail was subsequently revoked because his condition had worsened. In 1998, the defendant asked for a reconsideration of his competence. After being examined at a medical center for federal prisoners, the defendant was found incompetent to stand trial and was hospitalized at the center for a determination as to whether he would attain the capacity to allow his trial to proceed.

While at the center, the defendant refused to take antipsychotic medication, but a psychiatrist at the center held a hearing and authorized involuntary administration of the drugs in question. A federal Bureau of Prisons official upheld this decision. In 2000, a United States Magistrate Judge issued an order authorizing forced administration of the drugs, on the grounds that (1) the defendant was a danger to himself and others, (2) medication was the only way to render him less dangerous, (3) any serious side effects could be ameliorated, (4) the benefits to the defendant outweighed the risks, and (5) the drugs were substantially likely to return the defendant to competence.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, in affirming the Magistrate Judge’s order, concluded that (1) the Magistrate Judge’s finding of dangerousness was “clearly erroneous”; but (2) medication was (a) the only viable hope of rendering the defendant competent to stand [***198] trial, and (b) necessary to serve the government’s interest in obtaining an adjudication of his guilt or innocence.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in affirming, reasoned that although the evidence did not support a finding of dangerousness, (1) the government had an essential interest in bringing the defendant to trial on fraud charges, (2) the treatment was medically appropriate, and (3) medical evidence indicated a reasonable probability that the defendant would fairly be able to participate in his trial (282 F3d 560).

On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court vacated and remanded. In an opinion by Breyer, J., joined by Rehnquist, Ch. J., and Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, and Ginsburg, JJ., it was held that:

(1) The Court of Appeals had jurisdiction to decide the defendant’s appeal of the District Court’s judgment–and the Supreme Court, on certiorari, consequently had jurisdiction over the case at hand–because the District Court’s judgment was an immediately appealable collateral order for purposes of 28 USCS § 1291.

(2) The Federal Constitution permits the government involuntarily to administer antipsychotic drugs to a mentally ill defendant facing serious criminal charges in order to render that defendant competent to stand trial, but only if a court concludes that (a) important governmental interests are at stake, such as interests in (i) bringing the defendant to trial, (ii) timely prosecution, or (iii) assuring that the defendant’s trial is a fair one; (b) involuntary medication (i) will significantly further such government interests, and (ii) is necessary to further such interests; and (c) administration of the drugs is medically appropriate.

(3) In the case at hand, the Court of Appeals erred in approving the forced administration of antipsychotic drugs to the defendant solely to render the defendant competent to stand trial, for among other matters, (a) the record of the hearing before the Magistrate Judge showed that the experts who testified at the hearing had focused mainly on the dangerousness issue rather than on the trial-competence issue, and (b) the Supreme Court, on certiorari, had to assume that the defendant was not dangerous.

Scalia, J., joined by O’Connor and Thomas, JJ., dissenting, expressed the view that (1) the District Court’s order was neither a “final decision” under § 1291 nor part of the class of specified interlocutory orders in 28 USCS § 1292, and (2) the Supreme Court thus lacked jurisdiction over the case at hand.

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