Criminal Defense Attorney Nick Alcock on Loughner Case

Despite his criminal defense attorney’s fight to resist medical treatment, Jared Lee Loughner continues to be forcibly medicated to make him psychologically fit to stand trial for the Tucson shooting rampage that occurred just over a year ago.

Loughner’s case was put on hold indefinitely when psychologists diagnosed him with schizophrenia and a federal judge ruled that he was not fit to stand trial for the shooting that killed six people and wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others. Loughner has been medicated for more than five months with psychotropic drugs at a Missouri prison facility. His criminal defense attorneys have fought against the government’s efforts to medicate him even though psychologists say his mental condition is improving.

“He will be confined for the rest of his life,” says James Cohen, a psychology in criminal law professor at Fordham University. Cohen believes that Loughner will end up in a mental treatment facility regardless of whether he goes to trial. Cohen thinks Loughner’s criminal defense attorneys oppose forced medication because they want him to act bizarrely at trial, and a jury would find it difficult to view the depth of Loughner’s psychological troubles if he is calm in the courtroom and appears cooperative with his attorneys.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns ruled that Loughner can eventually be made mentally fit to stand trial as his current stay at the Missouri facility will end on February 8 with the possibility for extension. The criminal case will resume if Burns finds Loughner ready to stand trial, but if the judge finds it unlikely Loughner will be ready for trial, he can dismiss the charges under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that stipulates a person cannot be held indefinitely for trial. Loughner’s treating psychologist Christina Pietz has stated in court that it might take another four months of treatment to make Loughner ready for trial.

If Loughner’s charges are dismissed, state and federal authorities would likely petition to have him civilly committed and seek repeated extensions of his commitment until his death.

Loughner’s criminal defense attorneys haven’t said whether they intend to mount an insanity defense.

They have made court filings that note his mental condition as a likely central issue at trial. Loughner’s lead attorney, Judy Clarke, has not publicly commented on the issue of a possible insanity defense.

Christopher Slobogin, an expert in criminal and mental health law at Vanderbilt University Law School, said that even if Loughner is found fit to stand trial and an insanity defense fails, his criminal defense attorneys could still use his psychological troubles to help save him from the death penalty if prosecutors pursue that punishment.

Posted by Nicholas Alcock, Phoenix Attorney, Alcock & Associates

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