Monday, July 15, 2013

Remand Required for Consideration of Alternatives to Forced Medication

US v. Chatmon: Chatmon was charged with conspiracy to distribute more than 280 grams of crack cocaine and 100 grams of heroin, a charge that carried a maximum penalty of life in prison.  He was determined to be incompetent due to schizophrenia and sent to FMC Butner to be "restored."  The report from Butner was that Chatmon could be restored to competency by the use of antipsychotic medication.  However, Chatmon would not agree to take medication.  Based on those findings, the Government moved to forcibly medicate Chatmon.  The district court granted the motion, finding Chatmon's offense to be "one of the most serious offenses that can be committed" and that forced medication was needed "because there is no less intrusive means shown to be available."

Chatmon appealed the district court's order and the Fourth Circuit reversed.  The court began by rejecting Chatmon's argument that his offense wasn't a "serious crime" that leads to the important Government interest in forcing medication.  It concluded that the question of a crime's severity is determined solely by the maximum potential punishment the defendant faces if convicted of it.  By that metric, his offense is, indeed, a serious crime.  However, the court agreed with Chatmon that the district court clearly erred by not considering alternatives to medication that may produce similar results, as it mentioned such considerations only in summary fashion.  That's particularly true where the defendant, as Chatmon did here, offers potential alternatives.

NOTE: This case was decided on June 10, 2013.

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