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U.S.A. v. Loughner – Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

United States v. Loughner, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 4489 (9th Cir. Ariz. Mar. 5, 2012)

Facts of the Case:

Jared Lee Loughner is the accused shooter of the Tuscon, Arizona shooting killing six people including U.S. District Court Judge John Roll, and injuring 13 others including U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Initially ruled incompetent to stand trial, the Bureau of Prisons tried for more than four months to see if he could be made competent. While Loughner was detained by the Bureau of Prisons, he was deemed to be a danger to himself and others. The District Court looked to 28 C.F.R. §549 .46(a) and later 28 C.F.R. §549 .46(b) 2010 to see if he could be involuntarily medicated. The District Court effectively ruled that he could be involuntarily medicated. It was deemed after the initial four months that he was still not competent to stand trial, so the District Court also ruled his condition warranted an extra four months in the Bureau of Prisons, to try to make him competent to stand trial. See 18 U.S.C.S. §4241.


  • Whether Jared Loughner should be involuntarily given emergency medication under 28 C.F.R. §549 .46(b) 2010 to restore his competency to stand trial, and if this violates his due process rights.
  • Whether Jared Loughner needed to be committed for an additional four months on top of the previous four months in an attempt to restore his competency, and if this violates his due process rights.
  • Rules:

    • Collateral order doctrine: (1) conclusively determines the disputed question, (2) resolves an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action, and (3) is effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment.
    • [T]he substantive issue involves a definition of th[e] protected constitutional interest, as well as identification of the conditions under which competing state interests might outweigh it. The procedural issue concerns the minimum procedures required by the Constitution for determining that the individual’s liberty interest actually is outweighed in a particular instance. Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210, 1035-36 (1990).
    • [W]hen an inmate is unwilling or unable to provide voluntary written informed consent for recommended psychiatric medication, the inmate will be scheduled for an administrative hearing.” 28 C.F.R. § 549.46
    • Some form of hearing is required before an individual is finally deprived of a property interest. – Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, (1974).
    • Additional reasonable time for confinement may be granted if: “(a) his mental condition is so improved that trial may proceed, if the court finds that there is a substantial probability that within such additional period of time he will
      attain the capacity to permit the proceedings to go forward; or (B) the pending charges against him are disposed of according to law; whichever is earlier.” – 18 U.S.C.S. §4241(D)
    • The district court must find that the defendant “is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense.” 18 U.S.C.S. §4241(A)


    • The Ninth Circuit court of appeals is looking at some of the issues in the Loughner case concurrently to what is happening at district court level. The Ninth Circuit Court said for them to have jurisdiction over the case that it would have to fall under the collateral order doctrine, see rule above. The court said involuntary medication falls within the scope of the collateral order doctrine. Since the involuntary medication helps get Loughner back to competency it conclusively determines the legal basis; the involuntary medication is a procedure of the Loughner case, and doesn’t deal with the shooting; the medication is unreviewable because he was medicated even before the trial.
    • As long as Loughner is a pretrial detainee, and lawfully held, his rights are limited by the facilities needs and policies, and his dangerousness to himself or to others may be judged by the same standard as convicted detainees.
    • Even though involuntary medication is dangerous there are procedural safeguards built into the process. The medication is prescribed by a psychiatrist then reviewed by another psychiatrist, which ensures the treatment is in the prisoner’s best interest.
    • Just because more process (due process) can be given doesn’t mean that it should Due process is weighed against “the cost of additional procedures against the risk of error in the existing procedures and the private interest at stake.”
    • Past Ninth Circuit Court opinions say that Due Process is generally gauged by three factors: “First, the private interest that will be affected by the official action; second, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and finally, the Government’s interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail.”
    • There does not necessarily need to be a lawyer present for the individual at an involuntary medication hearing because lawyers are not versed in medicine. The exception is: “the provision of an independent lay adviser who understands the psychiatric issues involved is sufficient protection.”
    • The involuntary medication of an individual is in the best interests of the institution and of the individual. The first concerns are prison management, and medical concerns, and secondarily are legal concerns.
    • The administration of anti-psychotic drugs is a fluid process. If Loughner ceases to respond to his medications the doses can be increased, or the medications can be changed.


    1. “Loughner was provided with the substance and procedure demanded by the Due Process Clause before the government involuntarily medicated him.”
    2. “It is clear that Loughner has a severe mental illness, that he represents a danger to himself or others, and that the prescribed medication is appropriate and in his medical interest.”
    3. “There was no arbitrariness in the district court’s order denying the motion to enjoin Loughner’s emergency treatment. He may be involuntarily medicated.”
    4. “The district court did not commit legal error in its commitment rulings, and its finding that there is a substantial probability that Loughner will be restored to competency in the foreseeable future is supported by the evidence and not clearly erroneous.”
    5. “Loughner may be committed pursuant to the district court’s order and subject to its supervision.”
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