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Second Circuit sets standard for involuntary medication of criminal defendants.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has held that trial courts can require that criminal defendants be medicated against their will to make them competent to stand trial, as long as the medication is necessary and will not impair defendants' ability to exercise their constitutional rights. (United States v. Gomes, 289 F.3d 71 (2d Cir. 2002).)

The court observed that the forcible injection of medication into a nonconsenting defendant's body "represents a substantial interference with that person's liberty." But it found that the government's countervailing interest in prosecuting criminal cases is no less substantial and, under certain circumstances, outweighs the defendant's interests.

The government's power to bring an accused person to trial is "fundamental to a scheme of ordered liberty and prerequisite to social justice and peace," the court said.

The case involved a man arrested for illegal possession of a firearm. After finding the defendant mentally incompetent to stand trial, a federal district court ordered that he be medicated with antipsychotic drugs. The appeals court upheld this action, and endeavored to set a new standard to guide trial courts on this issue in the future.

In such cases, the Second Circuit held, the government must show, and the trial court must explicitly find by clear and convincing evidence, that

* The proposed treatment is medically appropriate.

* The treatment is necessary to restore the defendant to competence.

* The defendant can be fairly tried while the medication is in effect.

* The trial will serve an essential government interest.

Also, a trial court ordering involuntary medication must closely monitor the process to ensure that the dosage is "properly individualized to the defendant" and that it continues to be necessary throughout the proceedings.

The court added that the defendant must remain lucid enough to communicate with his or her attorney. In some cases, it said, the administration of drugs might improve communications by enhancing a defendant's ability to concentrate or by preventing hallucinations and delusions.

The defendant had argued that the side effects of the drugs might prejudice the jury by making him look bored or unfeeling in court. But the court cited statements by the American Psychological Association that new antipsychotic medications known as "atypicals" are much less likely than older drugs to have such side effects. "[R]ecent advances in antipsychotic medication reduce our concerns that the defendant's health interests and fair-trial rights cannot be adequately protected when he is involuntarily medicated," the court said.

"Whatever the risks of side effects may be, we believe that they are best dealt with in the context of the individual case rather than by blanket judicial pronouncements."
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Author:Scarlett, Thomas
Publication:Trial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
Words:433
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