Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Divided Court Strikes Down Forced Medication Order

US v. White: White was charged with conspiracy, credit card fraud, and identity theft. She suffers from Delusional Disorder, Grandiose Type. After a motion was filed to determine her competency, it was found (and everyone agreed) that White was not competent to stand trial. After White "rebuffed all efforts to treat her disorder," the Government sought and was granted permission to forcibly medicate her pursuant to Sell v. United States, 539 US 166 (2003). White sought an interlocutory appeal challenging that order.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed, 2-1. "The crux of this case," the court wrote, was whether the Government had a sufficiently important interest in prosecuting White that interference with her liberty interest against self medication was justified, measured against the presence of any "special circumstances" militating against the Government's interest. The court concluded that, in this case, such special circumstances existed to weigh against White's forced medication.

While noting that the offenses with which White was charged were "serious," the court pointed to the following special circumstances that undermined the Government's interest in prosecuting her: (1) the length of time she had already spent in custody - 29 months, versus the most likely sentence if convicted; (2) White's charged offenses, while serious, were not violent; (3) her commitment to the BoP for evaluation/observation precludes her from possessing a firearm, as a conviction would; (4) the nature of White's "unique" condition and unknown potential effects of the proposed treatments; and (5) the case is not "sufficiently exceptional" to justify forced medication. To hold otherwise would risk allowing forced medication to become routine, rather than limited, option in such cases. Judge Keenan concurred in the opinion, writing separately to "emphasize the constitutional liberty interest at stake and the high burden of proof" put upon the Government when it seeks forcible medication.

Judge Niemeyer dissented, taking issue with both the majority's classification of White's charged offenses and its determination that she would likely be detained beyond the sentence she would receive if convicted. He writes that "[i]f the majority were ever inclined to allow an order for involuntary medication to enable the government to try a defendant, this would be the paradigmatic case."

Congrats to the defender office in Eastern NC on the win!

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