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Mitigating Factors Counter Government’s Interest in Forced Psychotropic Medication

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held on December 19, 2018 that the government could not involuntarily medicate a defendant where it lacked an interest to prosecute. A significant factor in the case was that the defendant had already served pretrial detention almost as long as his potential sentence under the federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Duane Letroy Berry was charged with conveying false information regarding explosives. The charges stemmed from a 2015 incident involving a Bank of America branch in Detroit; he had allegedly placed a briefcase that looked like a bomb but contained only papers and no explosives outside the bank.

Berry was found incompetent to stand trial. He also was found to be delusional, but refused to take psychotropic medication. The government moved to forcibly medicate him to regain competency, and the district court granted the motion. Berry appealed.

The Sixth Circuit was confronted with determining whether an offense with a five-year statutory maximum sentence was serious enough to allow forced, involuntary medication so a defendant could stand trial. The appellate court held there were “significant mitigating factors that weigh against finding the government has a sufficient interest for such mandated treatment,” and noted that “When the government seeks to involuntarily medicate a mentally incompetent defendant to restore his competency for trial, the government’s prosecutorial interest must be balanced against the defendant’s ‘significant ... liberty interest [under the Constitution] in avoiding the unwanted administration of antipsychotic drugs.’”

It was undisputed that the Sentencing Guidelines range in Berry’s case was no more than 60 months, and that he would have served nearly all of that time by the time of trial. This “significantly undercut[s]” the government’s interest in prosecuting him, the Court of Appeals wrote, citing Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003). 

The Court also found that aside from the length of pretrial confinement, other “unique circumstances” in the case included 1) the non-violent nature of the offense; 2) the fact that Berry did not present a risk of harm to himself or others; and 3) the likelihood that he would be civilly committed in lieu of incarceration. These circumstances caused the government’s interest to drop “below the level to justify mandated treatment.”

The district court’s order granting the motion to forcibly medicate Berry was vacated based on the facts of the case. See: United States v. Berry, 911 F.3d 354 (6th Cir. 2018). 

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Related legal case

United States v. Berry