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United States v. Yeakel

July 9, 2008

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
TIMOTHY YEAKEL, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

I. BACKGROUND

On February 27, 2007, Defendant Timothy Yeakel was indicted on 18 U.S.C. § 922 (g)(1), felon in possession of a firearm. Defendant moved for a psychiatric examination on May 16, 2007. (Doc. 25.) The Court granted Defendant's motion on May 29, 2007. (Doc. 30.) The Court entered an Order granting the Government's motion to further evaluate Defendant's ability to attain competence to stand trial (Doc. 37) on September 13, 2007. (Doc. 39.) The report regarding Defendant's ability to obtain competence was received by the Court on March 31, 2008. In this report, the Government requests that Defendant Yeakel be involuntarily medicated to restore his competency to proceed to trial. A hearing was held on May 30, 2008 to determine whether Mr. Yeakel should be administered psychotropic drugs against his will. The expert opinion of a psychologist, Robert E. Cochrane, Psy.D., and a psychiatrist Bryon Lee Herbel, M.D. were offered. Each testified that Mr. Yeakel suffered from Delusional Disorder and that the administration of drugs would likely render him competent to stand trial. Both experts opined there was a 70% to 80% chance the administration of drugs would be successful in rendering Mr. Yeakel competent to stand trial. Dr. Herbel testified the drug proposed for use, Zyprexa, has side effects which included sedation, muscle stiffness, tremor, constipation and approximately a 5% chance of diabetes. Each testified there was no alternative that was less intrusive than the one proposed. Each expert testified they would propose this treatment to a family member. Of particular note is that the information concerning the use of the proposed drug is from the data base dealing with schizophrenia, not delusional disorder, which is so rare there is no data base. Also of note is that there is no evidence that what Mr. Yeakel says is not true. The experts did not recount any evidence that Mr. Yeakel's statements were untrue. Indeed, the conspiracy theory noted in the report as well as the so-called distortion of facts are opinions essentially based upon Mr. Yeakel's lack of flexibility regarding the events about which he speaks. Both witnesses agreed that Mr. Yeakel was not dangerous to himself or to others.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Forced Medication for Another Purpose

In United States v. Grape, 509 F. Supp. 2d 484 (W.D. Pa. 2007), the Court noted that the first inquiry a court must consider is whether "forced medication is warranted for a different purpose." Sell, 539 U.S. at 182 (emphasis in original). The Sell Court cited the Supreme Court decision in Harper, noting that a court should first consider whether involuntary medication is warranted for a purpose other than competency at trial, such as based upon the defendant's dangerousness, or where the refusal to take medication puts the defendant's health at grave risk. Sell, 539 U.S. at 181-82 (citing Harper, 494 U.S. at 225-26). The Harper Court noted that the Due Process Clause "permits the State to treat a prison inmate with antipsychotic drugs against his will, if the inmate is dangerous to himself or others and the treatment is in the inmate's medical interest." Harper, 494 U.S. at 227.

The Supreme Court in Riggins v. Nevada, 504 U.S. 127 (1992) considered the use of antipsychotic drugs on a pre-trial detainee over the objection of the defendant. In Riggins, the Court noted that Harper dealt with a prison inmate, and that the Fourteenth Amendment affords at least as much protection to a detained person as a prison inmate. Id. at 135. The Court found that the government "certainly would have satisfied due process if the prosecution had demonstrated, and the District Court had found, that treatment with antipsychotic medication was medically appropriate and considering less intrusive alternatives, essential for the sake of Riggins' own safety or the safety of others." Id.

The Supreme Court noted in Sell that "[t]here are often strong reasons for a court to determine whether forced administration of drugs can be justified on . . . alternative grounds before turning to the trial competence question." Sell, 539 U.S. at 182. The Court further noted that "the inquiry into whether medication is permissible, say, to render an individual non-dangerous is usually more 'objective and manageable' than the inquiry into whether medication is permissible to render a defendant competent." Id. (quoting Riggins, 504 U.S. at 140 (Kennedy, J., concurring in judgment)). Therefore, the first inquiry in determining whether Mr. Yeakel should be involuntarily medicated is if it is for a reason other than for trial competence. Here, the evidence is that Mr. Yeakel is not a danger to himself or others.

B. Forced Medication for Competence to Stand Trial

When the government wishes to forcibly medicate a defendant, the district courts usually hold a Sell hearing, in which evidence is presented regarding the factors required in Harper above and those required in Sell below. In Sell, 539 U.S. 166, 179-80, the Court held that a court may require involuntary medication "solely for trial competence purposes in certain circumstances." In considering Harper and Riggins, the Supreme Court in Sell stated that "the Constitution permits the Government involuntarily to administer antipsychotic drugs to a mentally ill defendant facing serious criminal charges in order to render that defendant competent to stand trial, but only if the treatment is medically appropriate, is substantially unlikely to have side effects that may undermine the fairness of the trial, and taking account of less intrusive alternatives, is necessary significantly to further important government trial-related interests." Sell, 539 U.S. at 179-80.

The Defendant has a constitutional right to deny unwanted medical treatment protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court has held that such a liberty interest can only be overcome by an "essential" or "overriding" state interest. Riggins v. Nevada, 504 U.S. 127, 134, 135 (1992); Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210, 221 (1990). Furthermore, courts have required the government to bear the burden of proving its case by clear and convincing evidence. United States v. Schloming, No. 05-0517 (TJB), 2006 WL 1320078, at * 3 (D.N.J. May 12, 2006) (citing United States v. Gomes, 387 F.3d 157, 160 (2d Cir. 2004); United States v. Bradley, 417 F.3d 1107, 1114 (10th Cir. 2005)).

In analyzing a Sell motion for involuntary medication, district courts consider four (4) factors: (1) that important government interests are at stake; (2) that involuntary medication will significantly further the important government interest (meaning that the involuntary medication is substantially likely to render the defendant compe-tent to stand trial); (3) that involuntary medication is necessary to further the important government interests (whether there are any alternative, less intrusive treatments likely to achieve substantially the same results); and (4) whether administration of the drugs is medically appropriate (whether the treatment is in the patient's best medical interest in light of his medical condition). See Grape, 509 F. Supp. 2d at 491 (citing Sell, 539 U.S. at 180-81.)

1. Important Government Interest

The first consideration is whether an important government interest is at stake. The Supreme Court in Sell noted that the interest "in bringing to trial an individual accused of a serious crime is important." Sell, 539 U.S. at 183. Therefore, the first inquiry is whether the crime is a serious one. While Sell does not elaborate on the meaning of a "serious" offense, the district court for the District of New Jersey in United States v. Schloming, No. 05-0517 (TJB), 2006 WL 1320078 (D.N.J. May 12, 2006) noted that crimes such as a felon in ...


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