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Supreme Court Allows “Limited” Drugging of Defendants

The 6 to 3 ruling laid out several criteria a court must consider in deciding whether to order forced medication for a defendant, saying that such situations may be rare.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, said that when considering individual cases, the court must decide if forced medications “will significantly further” the government’s task of bringing the case to trial.

“It [the court] must find that administration of the drugs is substantially likely to render the defendant competent to stand trial. At the same time, it must find that administration of the drugs is substantially unlikely to have side effects that will interfere significantly with the defendant’s ability to assist counsel in conducting a trial defense,” Justice Breyer wrote.

The high court also said that courts must decide whether any “alternative, less intrusive” methods exist that can be used to achieve trial competency.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and Anthony Kennedy joined Breyer in the majority decision.

Justice Antonin Scalia led a dissent arguing that the high court did not have the proper jurisdiction to decide the case. He was joined by Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas.

The case centered on Dr. Charles Sell, a St. Louis dentist with a history of mental illness who faces fraud, money laundering and conspiracy charges. Dr. Sell challenged a court order that he should take anti-psychotic medication in order to stand trial. Sell’s attorney said his defendant is able to behave normally and does not want to be put on the powerful drugs.

In other opinions issued Monday, the high court visited issues involving campaign finance contributions, prisoner visitation rights and trespassing rules in public housing neighborhoods.

In a 7 to 2 decision written by Justice Souter, the high court upheld a federal ban on campaign contributions by political advocacy groups, even those organized as non-profit organizations.

The law, which is part of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, was challenged by the North Carolina Right to Life group, a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation that felt that the ban violated the group’s First Amendment rights to free expression and association.

In another opinion, the court ruled unanimously in favor of the government’s right to prosecute certain trespassers in public housing neighborhoods, finding that some high-crime complexes can be deemed off limits to visitors.

The decision, which was delivered by Justice Scalia, overturned a Virginia Supreme Court ruling that found such a trespassing policy to be unconstitutional.

In a fourth decision, the court ruled unanimously in support of limits on prison inmate visitation rights, including a ban on visits in some circumstances by relatives of inmates, former inmates and the denial of visitation privileges for inmates found guilty of two drug abuse violations while in prison.

A group of prisoners in Michigan had challenged their state’s visitation rules, claiming the restrictions violated their rights. Their lawyer said the state had adopted the strictest visitation rules in the country.

The court found that prisoners’ civil rights do not override security concerns in a crowded prison, deferring instead to the judgement of correctional facility administrators.

“The very object of imprisonment is confinement,” Justice Kennedy wrote in delivering the court’s opinion. “Many of the liberties and privileges enjoyed by other citizens must be surrendered by the prisoner.”

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