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United States v. Rogers

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

January 5, 2015






The Government seeks an order requiring the defendant, Theron Rogers, to submit to the administration of antipsychotic drugs against his wishes in an effort to render him competent to stand trial. Mr. Rogers objects. Because the Government has not met its burden of proof to establish that involuntary medication is appropriate, the Court will deny the motion.

On October 1, 2013, Mr. Rogers was indicted for threatening to blow up a Social Security Administration building in Greensboro, North Carolina, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(e). (Doc. 1.)[1] Upon defense counsel's motion, (Doc. 9), the Court ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Mr. Rogers. ( See Docs. 10, 11.)

On February 3, 2014, the Federal Correctional Institution at Butner filed the results of the psychiatric evaluation, (Doc. 13), in which a forensic psychologist concluded that " due to [Mr. Rogers'] deteriorated mental status, there are serious concerns about his rational understanding of his legal situation, his ability to assist counsel, and his ability to comport himself appropriately in court." (Doc. 13 at 5.) The psychologist noted that Mr. Rogers, who was then fifty-three years old, had refused to participate or cooperate in the evaluation, (Doc. 13 at 1, 3), that no testing was done, (Doc. 13 at 3), and that there was " no available information regarding [his] history of mental illness and associated treatment (if any)." (Doc. 13 at 4.) The psychologist diagnosed Mr. Rogers with an " [u]nspecified [s]chizophrenia" disorder, (Doc. 13 at 3), and opined that Mr. Rogers was not competent to stand trial. (Doc. 13 at 5.)

Soon after a status conference on March 4, 2014, at which no one contended that Mr. Rogers was competent, the Court adopted the findings in the evaluation, (Doc. 14 at 1), noted that Mr. Rogers' conduct at the conference corroborated the findings in the evaluation, (Doc. 14 at 1-2), and found that Mr. Rogers was presently suffering from a mental defect that rendered him mentally incompetent because he was " unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him and to assist properly in his defense." (Doc. 14 at 2.) Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d), the Court ordered that Mr. Rogers be committed to the custody of the Attorney General for hospitalization and treatment to determine whether there was a substantial probability that in the foreseeable future he would attain the capacity to permit the proceedings to go forward. (Doc. 14 at 2.)

On October 29, 2014, the Mental Health Department at Butner filed a forensic evaluation containing the results of detailed observations of Mr. Rogers over several months. (Doc. 15.) During that time, Mr. Rogers refused to cooperate with evaluators, refused to accept offered treatment, and " remained hostile, paranoid, and withdrawn in his cell on 23-hour per day lockdown status." (Doc. 15 at 4-5.) The evaluating psychologist and psychiatrist diagnosed Mr. Rogers with schizophrenia, noting his " gross disorganization and psychosis." (Doc. 15 at 2, 5.) Evaluators found that Mr. Rogers " suffers from a chronic mental illness characterized by severe thought disorder, probable hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized behavior." (Doc. 15 at 5.) They concluded that Mr. Rogers was not competent to stand trial, (Doc. 15 at 6-7), and " offer[ed] the opinion [that] there is a substantial probability that Mr. Rogers' competency status can be restored with a period of treatment with antipsychotic medication." (Doc. 15 at 29.)

The Court held a status conference on December 2, 2014. Mr. Rogers was present and represented by court-appointed counsel, Alan Doorasamy. The Government was represented by Special Assistant United States Attorney, Andrew Cochran.

At the conference, the Government orally asked the Court to enter an order requiring Mr. Rogers to receive antipsychotic medication to render him competent to stand trial. (Doc. 16 at 1.) The only evidence offered by the Government was the various forensic evaluations. (Doc. 16 at 1.) Defense counsel offered no evidence, but did question whether the Government had established that it had important governmental interests at stake and whether involuntary medication would substantially further those interests. (Doc. 16 at 1.) Mr. Rogers addressed the Court, and, while he was only somewhat coherent and was generally illogical and non-responsive, he unambiguously, clearly, and firmly stated his objection to taking any medicine. ( See Doc. 16 at 1.)

The Court entered an Order directing the parties to investigate whether there were past medical records available that might assist the Court in making its decision, to file any appropriate motions, and, if the party filed none, to file an explanation. (Doc. 16 at 3.) Thereafter, defense counsel sought funds for an investigator to assist in locating Mr. Rogers' mental health records. (Doc. 17 at 1.) The Government did not file any motions and did not file any explanation for its decision not to seek court assistance in locating evidence about Mr. Rogers' mental health history, despite the Court's order to do so. (Doc. 16 at 3.)

The Court has reviewed the matter in light of Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166, 123 S.Ct. 2174, 156 L.Ed.2d 197 (2003), United States v. White, 620 F.3d 401 (4th Cir. 2010), United States v. Bush, 585 F.3d 806 (4th Cir. 2009), and United States v. Evans, 404 F.3d 227 (4th Cir. 2005). " [A]n individual has a constitutionally protected liberty interest in avoiding involuntary administration of antipsychotic drugs," which may only be overcome by " an 'essential' or 'overriding' state interest." Sell, 539 U.S. at 178-79 (internal quotation marks omitted). When the Government seeks to forcibly medicate a defendant to render him competent to stand trial, the Due Process Clause requires that the Government establish by clear and convincing evidence that (1) important governmental interests are at stake and are not outweighed by special circumstances that diminish those interests; (2) involuntary medication will significantly further those interests, without causing side effects that will interfere significantly with the defendant's ability to assist counsel; (3) involuntary medication is necessary to further those interests, taking into account less intrusive alternatives; and (4) the administration of the drugs is medically appropriate. Sell, 539 U.S. at 179-81; Bush, 585 F.3d at 813-14.

It is undisputed that Mr. Rogers is not competent to stand trial and that medication is likely the only way to restore his competence.[2] The Court must determine whether the Government's admittedly significant interest in bringing Mr. Rogers to trial outweighs the countervailing considerations and whether the prescription drug regimen suggested by the medical professionals at Butner is medically appropriate. See Sell, 539 U.S. at 180-81; Bush, 585 F.3d at 813-14.

The only governmental interest the Government has identified is its interest in bringing a person accused of a serious crime to trial. While this interest is " significant," Bush, 585 F.3d at 813 (citing Sell, 539 U.S. at 180), it is not enough by itself to allow the Government to force an unwilling person to submit to involuntary ...

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