July 13, 2014

Tenth Circuit: Specific Treatment Plan Required Before Court can Order Involuntary Medication of Incompetent Defendant

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Chavez on Wednesday, November 13, 2013.

Reydecel Chavez was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm, and reentry of a removed alien. Chavez was found incompetent to stand trial and he refused antipsychotic medication that would render him competent. The district court ordered Chavez to be involuntarily medicated.

Under United States v. Sell, “the government may involuntarily administer drugs to a mentally ill, non-dangerous defendant in order to render him competent to stand trial only upon a four-part showing. The government must establish that: (1) “important governmental interests are at stake;” (2) the “involuntary medication will significantly further” those interests; (3) the “involuntary medication is necessary to further those interests,” e.g., less intrusive alternative treatments are unlikely to be effective; and (4) the administration of the medication is “medically appropriate” and in the defendant’s best medical interests.”

Chavez argued that the lack of an individualized treatment plan could not satisfy the requirements of Sell. The Tenth Circuit agreed and held that “an order to involuntarily medicate a non-dangerous defendant solely in order to render him competent to stand trial must specify which medications might be administered and their maximum dosages.” Without this information, a court could not be sure any side effects would be unlikely to significantly interfere with the defendant’s ability to assist in his trial defense, or that the medication is medically appropriate. The court held that a list of possible medications and their maximum dosages was adequate because medical staff require flexibility to provide effective treatment.

The court vacated the district court’s order and remanded for further proceedings.

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