Federal prison doctors may force antipsychotic drugs on Jared Lee Loughner, charged with killing six people and trying to assassinate U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, on the grounds he is a danger to himself, a U.S. appeals court ruled.
The San Francisco-based court ruled today by a 2-1 vote that there was no violation of Loughner’s constitutional due process rights when prison doctors were permitted to forcibly medicate him with antipsychotic drugs.
The panel also said a judge doesn’t need to be involved in the dangerousness determination -- only the prison medical staff.
The U.S. Supreme Court previously said it is permissible, after a hearing before a judge, to forcibly drug pretrial detainees such as Loughner to restore their competence to stand trial, according to today’s ruling.
Loughner hasn’t yet had a competency hearing, so the issue of judicial consent for forced drugging need not be confronted yet, because the prison dangerousness issue came first, according to the court.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns in San Diego allowed prison doctors in June to give Loughner antipsychotic drugs against his will, because he was considered dangerous. The order came over the objections of Loughner’s lawyer.
Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon dissented from today’s ruling, saying the majority allowed the trial judge to abdicate to Loughner’s prison doctors the responsibility to decide if he is to be restored to trial competency through involuntary medication.
Giffords, a Democrat, was among 13 wounded in a Jan. 8, 2011, shooting rampage outside a Tucson, Arizona, supermarket where she was holding a community meeting. Bystanders wrestled Loughner to the ground. Giffords survived a gunshot wound through her head. She resigned in January.
U.S. District Judge John Roll was among those killed.
Loughner, 23, has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder charges in federal court.
The case is U.S. v. Loughner, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).
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