Prison doctors may continue to forcibly medicate the man charged with the deadly Tucson shooting spree last year that gravely wounded then-congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as they seek to restore his fitness for trial, a federal appeals court ruled on Monday.
The 2-1 decision by a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirms a lower-court ruling that has permitted staff at a federal prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri, to administer anti-psychotic drugs to Jared Loughner against his will.
Loughner, 23, is charged with 49 criminal offenses, including first-degree murder, stemming from the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting rampage outside a Tucson, Arizona, supermarket that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Giffords.
"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," Judge Jay Bybee wrote in the appeals court's 117-page majority opinion.
Bybee also said evidence supports the lower-court's finding that there is a "substantial probability that Loughner will be restored to competency in the foreseeable future."
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns on Feb. 6 granted doctors at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychiatric facility four more months to attempt to restore Loughner's mental competency.
Loughner, who has pleaded not guilty, was declared by Judge Burns in May of last year to be mentally unfit to stand trial after two government experts concluded that the accused gunman suffered from schizophrenia, disordered thinking and delusions.
Loughner's lawyers have for months fought the forcible medication regimen he is receiving, arguing that as a pretrial detainee he is entitled to have a judge, rather than prison doctors, determine whether such treatment is appropriate.
Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, is still undergoing rehabilitation for the head wound she suffered at close-range. She resigned her seat in Congress in January to focus on her recovery.
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