10/1/2011

By Carrie Tenant, J.D. Candidate

On Wednesday September 28, 2011, Jared L. Loughner, the man charged in the Arizona shooting rampage, faced another competency hearing in Arizona.[1] Loughner is charged with the January 8 shooting rampage in Tucson that left six people, including a federal judge and a child, dead and wounded thirteen others, including congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Loughner has pleaded not guilty, but if he is found competent to stand trial and subsequently convicted, he could receive the death penalty.[2] Below is a brief overview of the history of Loughner’s case:

March 9, 2011:

The Court granted the government’s motion under 18 U.S.C. § 4241 for a psychiatric examination to determine whether Loughner was competent to stand trial, and directed counsel to work out the logistics of the examination.[3]

March 21, 2011:

The opposing parties were unable to agree on the logistics of the examination. The government moved for the examination to be conducted at Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) medical referral center (MRC). The closest MRC to Tucson is located in Springfield, Missouri. The defense urged that the examination should be conducted in Tucson based on concerns that Loughner was “seriously ill” and should not be physically transferred.[4] A United States District Court granted the government’s motion, and held that the examination would be conducted at the MRC in Springfield, stating that the government’s position did not appear to be self-serving, but rather was designed to obtain the most “valid and reliable examination available.”[5]

May 27, 2011:

Following his psychiatric examination, which revealed that Loughner suffers from schizophrenia, a federal judge declares Loughner mentally unfit to help his legal defense.[6]

July 12, 2011:

Loughner’s defense team appealed to the Ninth Circuit after the district court denied their emergency motion for a preliminary injunction to enjoin the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri from forcibly medicating Loughner to treat his schizophrenia.[7] The Ninth Circuit held that the district court abused its discretion in not granting Loughner’s emergency motion for a preliminary injunction, thereby enjoining the Bureau of Prisons from forcibly medicating Loughner.[8]

According to the Ninth Circuit “serious questions going to the merits and a balance of hardships that tips sharply towards the plaintiff can support issuance of a preliminary injunction, so long as the plaintiff also shows that there is a likelihood of irreparable injury and that the injunction is in the public interest.”[9] In Loughner’s case, the court said that balance of hardships tipped toward Loughner because of his strong personal interest in not being forced to suffer the indignity and risk of bodily injury.[10] The court also found that being forced to take medication with serious, even fatal, side effect is doubtless an irreparable harm.[11] Finally, the court found a strong public interest in preserving the safety and bodily integrity of individuals who are detained prior to trial and thus “innocent in the eyes of the law.” Having found that all the relevant factors favored prohibiting forcibly medicating Loughner until his appeal could be resolved on the merits, the Ninth Circuit enjoined the Bureau of Prisons from doing so.[12]

September 1, 2011:

The district court responded to an August 16, 2011 letter from the Warden of FMC Springfield (BOP) requesting an extension of Loughner’s commitment period, which was set to expire on September 26, 2011.[13] The letter contained a progress report, which found that Loughner remained incompetent to stand trial, but predicted that additional treatment time would allow Loughner to improve and become competent to stand trial.[14] The court ruled that a hearing would be held on September 21, 2011 to determine whether an additional period of commitment should be granted to actually restore the defendant to competency.[15]

September 28, 2011:

Loughner appeared in court as the defense and the prosecution continued to argue about his competency to stand trial.[16] The forcible medication of Loughner continues to be at the center of the debate.[17] Despite a preliminary injunction, which halted Loughner’s medication temporarily from July 1 to July 19, prison official resumed forced medication on July 19 due to Loughner’s deteriorating condition.[18] Loughner’s defense team continues to push for the judge to rule on the legality of Loughner’s forcible medication, and maintains that the prison officials are not qualified to make the decision.[19]

Meanwhile, in spite of reports that he is making progress in treatment, Loughner had an outburst in court, reportedly yelling “Thank you for the free kill. She died in front of me. Your cheesiness,” and had to be forcefully escorted from the courtroom by Federal marshals.[20]

Looking ahead:

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns is expected to decide whether to grant the prosecutor’s request to extend Loughner’s commitment for another eight months in the hopes of restoring his competency for trial. The district court judge may also decide whether or not to hold another hearing on Loughner’s forcible medication.[21]

If Loughner is eventually deemed competent to stand trial, court proceedings will resume. If he is not deemed competent at the end of his treatment, his commitment can be extended indefinitely.[22] If however, doctors conclude that Loughner’s competency cannot be restored, the judge will have the option to dismiss the charges. If he does dismiss the charges, state and federal authorities could file a petition to civilly commit Loughner, and could attempt to renew his commitment indefinitely.[23]