August 26, 2011 / 5:45 PM / in 6 years

Loughner lawyers to argue against forced medication

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Lawyers for Tucson shooting spree suspect Jared Loughner were due back in court on Friday seeking again to stop prison officials from forcibly medicating him with anti-psychotic drugs.

Loughner has been housed at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychiatric hospital in Missouri since a federal judge in May declared him mentally incompetent to stand trial on charges he killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

At the time, the judge cited the conclusions of two medical experts that Loughner suffers from schizophrenia, disordered thinking and delusions.

The same U.S. district judge, Larry Burns, is expected to decide next month whether Loughner’s mental condition has improved enough for him to understand the charges he faces and allow the criminal proceedings against him to resume.

Meanwhile, Loughner’s attorneys have sought to keep their client from being given anti-psychotic drugs against his will, saying doing so is a violation of his due-process rights and an invasion of his personal liberty.

Prosecutors argue doctors were prompted to forcibly medicate Loughner due to a number of outbursts in which he threw chairs and spat at one of his own lawyers.

They assert such behavior poses a danger to medical staff assigned to evaluate and treat him.

But the defense counters that the prison could employ less intrusive alternatives to anti-psychotic medications, such as tranquilizers and physical restraints.

Burns in June refused to hear an initial petition by the defense team to bar forced medication of Loughner. In July, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered involuntary medication halted while the courts reviewed the matter.

But the appeals court changed direction later in July and allowed involuntary administering of drugs to resume while the legal challenge remains under consideration.

The two sides are headed back to Burns in San Diego on Friday to argue their case, and the 9th Circuit has scheduled its own hearing on the matter for next Tuesday.

Burns also will hear arguments on a motion filed by prosecutors earlier this month to bar the defense from issuing subpoenas not authorized by the court.

In addition the judge will reconsider a defense request to have Loughner’s medical treatment at the Springfield, Missouri, hospital recorded on videotape.

Loughner, a college dropout who turns 23 next month, is accused of opening fire on Giffords and a crowd of bystanders outside a Tucson, Arizona, supermarket on January 8. Giffords is still recovering from a gunshot wound to the head.

He pleaded not guilty in March to 49 charges stemming from the shooting rampage, including multiple counts of first-degree murder.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Jerry Norton)

This story corrects the month of incompetency declaration to May, instead of June, in 2nd paragraph

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