In 2011, Jared Loughner went to a local Tuscon, Arizona grocery store.   He shot then Representative Gabrielle Giffords, killed six, and wounded 13 other people.  As he was arrested and kept in police custody, it became very apparent that Loughner was not in a sane state of mind.  He seemed to be motivated to hurt himself and others, suffering from delusions and disordered thoughts.   A psychiatrist evaluated Loughner and diagnosed him with Schizophrenia, suggesting that medication would help him.  What the state prosecutor wanted was a man competent to face the court on murder, attempted murder and firearm charges.  Since Loughner refused to take medication while incarcerated, he remained incompetent to stand trial or understand the case against him.  The State of Arizona then heard the case of Loughner and decided since he was a danger to others and himself, they forced him take medication while in police custody or the county jail.  His lawyers argued that medicating their client would disallow him from presenting as not guilty by reason of insanity, but the judge granted the State the right to medicate him.  A year has passed and now that Loughner is found competent, he is expected to put in a guilty plea in order to resolve the case.  The problem remains:  Can a state force medication on someone who was obviously incompetent and unstable at the time a crime was committed in order to achieve competency for a hearing.  A person who cannot understand the charges, participate in their defense, and is unable to understand the consequence of one’s actions defines what incompetent to stand trial is.

Through the 1990’s, two cases before the United States Supreme Court brought up that medicating a prisoner against his will in order to enact the lower court’s sentence is perfectly allowable and does not pose a threat to the constitutional right against suffering cruel and unusual punishment.  Since then, most notably, the case of Steven Staley which can be read about here showed that the state of Texas should not be allowed to execute him on the grounds that he is incompetent to understand his grounds for execution.  Medication was ordered by the court to make Staley competent so Texas could execute him using that means that he was a danger to himself and others.   The stay of his execution happened on May 14, 2012 though there was no ruling comment on whether or not it was acceptable to force medication on Staley.   Staley has a long history of mental illness and has been diagnosed as Schizophrenia Paranoid type.  He was being treated with Haldol, a antipsychotic medication, which he has refused to take since 2006.  It should be mentioned that Staley has a bald spot on the back of his head from laying on the floor of his cell and he was considered as incompetent to stand trial.  One Texas judge ruled that Staley was incompetent to stand execution, but also ruled that forced medication was necessary because the state was very interested in levying his execution for the crimes he committed.  It should be noted that two states, Louisiana and South Carolina, have ruled that allowing medication to be administered for the sole purpose of executing a criminal violates their state constitutions.  It should also be noted that both the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association are in complete agreement that no one person should be medicated in order for them to be executed.  It should also be noted that, in short, Staley’s crimes were that he went on a four state armed robbery spree that resulted in the taking of a hostage and then murdering that hostage during a high speed race involving the police.   It should also be noted that Staley believes polygraph machines are torturing and controlling him.

So it begs the question that if someone is incompetent to stand trial in a capacity that was directly exhibited while committing the crimes and is forced to be medicated in order to be able to stand trial, how is it that the defendant gets a fair trial and enters a plea based solely on the fact that now they are competent?   How is that Loughner is unable to enter a plea of innocent by reason of insanity when the state has forced medication upon him that erodes such a defense?   Well, it could be as easily answered as it could be easily debated:  someone who is a threat to themselves or others to such a degree of murderous aggression, like shooting and killing 6 people, does certainly need medication in order to be a less of a danger to the prison population around him.  Is it necessary in order for that person to stand trial and understand the charges and consequences while participating in legal defense?  No, it shouldn’t be.  If he is competent today, but was incompetent at the time, the reflection of such a state should be made clear in the defense’s trial representation.  Is it cruel and unusual punishment to medicate that person for competence at trial and at the time of one’s execution?  I do believe it is.  It disallows the mentally ill their fair day in court and if it is terrible to execute a mentally challenged individual, it should be just as terrible to try that person now they are mentally well and stable via forced medication.  The minutia that defines such a state are easily debatable, but it should be also known that should someone be incompetent to stand trial, entering the prison system instead of a mental health facility to treat the psychosis, is terribly incompetent as well.  Prison will not treat the crux of his issues, nor will it be productive to his possible rehabilitation.  Of course, should he not be able to experience rehabilitation, then commensurate punishment most likely to be fitting of his mental illness.  However, I strongly doubt such productive means of rehabilitation would be enacted considering the variety of stigma attached to psychosis, mental illness, and capacity in which someone with Schizophrenia Paranoid Type is shielded from society because of the common view that all if not most result in murderous crime.   All of which is not necessarily true considering I haven’t went on a four state robbing spree ending with murder of a hostage or shot my representative while out and about with the general public and randomly murdering others guilty of association.  True, I am medicated for my mental illness and receive hospital treatment should things degrade; but that isn’t the truest assessment.  If one is homicidal, unstable, and acts on that mental abhorrence, then perhaps it is time for them to be treated for their illness and not simply discarded into the penal system to become a dispensable statistic staining the floor of some cell block.