(CN) – Federal prison officials have decided to forcibly medicate Tucson shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner with antipsychotic drugs, while his lawyer decries the move as an unjustified, serious violation of Loughner’s due-process rights.
“The decision, made solely by the Bureau of Prisons, to involuntarily and forcibly medicate Mr. Loughner based on dangerousness is an end run around the right to a judicial determination of whether an incompetent defendant can be involuntarily and forcibly medicated to restore competency to stand trial,” defense attorney Judy Clarke argued in a motion filed late Friday.
In a closed-door hearing on June 14, staff at a federal facility in Springfield, Mo., found that Loughner was a danger to himself and others and should be medicated with “unspecified, powerful anti-psychotic medications in unspecified dosages,” Clarke wrote.
She wants U.S. District Judge Larry Burns to rescind that decision and hold a hearing as to whether the facility can force Loughner to take the drugs.
“Until his recent arrival at Springfield in late May 2011, the Bureau of Prisons made no claim that Mr. Loughner should be forcibly medicated because of danger to himself or others,” Clarke wrote. “Yet, almost immediately upon his arrival at Springfield for purposes of competency restoration and only after he declined to take psychotropic medications voluntarily for purposes of restoration, Mr. Loughner was notified of the prison’s intent to forcibly medicate him on the grounds that he was a danger to others.”
Clarke claims that the decision was based on Loughner “having thrown a plastic chair against the wall and screen of his cell door and spit on his attorney more than two months ago.”
She also argues that Loughner did not have proper representation at the hearing and that prison officials failed to give his lawyers prior notice. She claims that Loughner’s defense team is being kept in the dark about his status – including as to whether the medication regime has begun.
“Defense counsel became aware of the unilateral decision to involuntarily and forcibly medicate Mr. Loughner on June 21, 2011, upon receipt of BOP records,” Clarke wrote. “Counsel have sought since that time, but to no avail, to obtain information about Mr. Loughner’s condition, to visit with him cell side, and to have a medical expert visit with him cell side. At this time, counsel does not know whether the prison has already begun to forcibly medicate Mr. Loughner.”
Clarke claims that prison officials’ justification for forcing the suspect to take drugs is thin, and that it goes against a long line of legal precedent.
“Countless prisoners, detainees, and institutionalized people have spit or worse, including throwing feces or urine on other inmates and guards, physically assaulting and injuring other inmates and guards, without being subjected to forced medication, much less mind-altering psychotropic medications,” she wrote. “Likewise, the report was not referring to any proclivity to throwing chairs while isolated in one’s cell. On the two isolated occasions Mr. Loughner engaged in this conduct, BOP staff saw no need to even write up a report. All too common minor acts of insubordination by inmates such as these, even if violations of prison rules, haven’t led to the
forced medication for countless other prisoners who have engaged in such conduct.”
Clarke added that “the prison has failed to demonstrate how the use of psychotropic drugs [is] ‘essential for [Mr. Loughner’s] safety or the safety of others.’ For nearly six months, Mr. Loughner has been detained using less intrusive alternatives without serious harm to Mr. Loughner or anyone else.”
Loughner is expected to remain at the federal facility for up to four months while undergoing treatment for schizophrenia. In May, Judge Burns ruled that the 22-year-old was incompetent to stand trial for a shooting rampage that killed six people and injured 13, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Clarke had previously asked that the court give her advance notice of any plan to give Loughner psychotropic medication, a common treatment for schizophrenia. Burns has twice denied her request.
Prior to his competency hearing, Loughner spent more than a month in mental-health examinations. Two physicians, Drs. Christina Pietz and Matthew Carroll, independently found that Loughner was unable to assist in his own defense and suffers from schizophrenia.
The Jan. 8 shooting spree that Loughner is accused of committing resulted in the deaths of six people, including a 9-year-old girl, U.S. District Judge John Roll and Giffords’ aide Gabriel Zimmerman.