PHOENIX (AP) - An appeals court ruled Tuesday prison officials can't resume their forcible medication of psychotropic drugs for the suspect in the Tucson shooting rampage.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal kept in place an earlier order that temporarily stopped the involuntary medication of Jared Lee Loughner. The order will remain in effect until the court rules on an appeal by Loughner's attorneys over the larger issue of forced medication.
The appeals court ruled Loughner's interest in not suffering the risk of side effects from powerful drugs is stronger than the government's interest in protecting Loughner and those around him in prison. But it noted that authorities can take steps to maintain the safety of prison officials, other inmates or Loughner, including forcibly giving him tranquilizers.
The court said the federal government has kept Loughner from harming anyone in his six months of his incarceration since the shooting and that Loughner doesn't pose a danger to himself.
Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges in the Jan. 8 shooting that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
He had been forcibly medicated between June 21 and July 1 at a federal prison facility in Springfield, Mo., after prison officials determined his outbursts there posed a danger to others. While at the facility in Missouri, Loughner was given twice daily doses of Risperidone, a drug used for people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe behavior problems.
The 22-year-old has been at the Missouri facility since May 27 after mental health experts had determined he suffers from schizophrenia. U.S. District Judge Larry Burns had concluded that Loughner was mentally unfit to stand trial.
The decision to forcibly medicate Loughner on the grounds he posed a danger was made by prison officials who held a June 14 prison administrative hearing about Loughner's medication. But the appeals court halted the medications on July 1 as it considered an appeal by Loughner's attorneys.
The court is considering the larger question of whether the decision to forcibly medicate Loughner with psychotropic drugs can be made by prison officials or a judge.
Loughner's attorneys argued the decision to forcibly medicate their client solely on the basis of an administrative hearing by prison officials had violated his due-process rights.
Prosecutors said the appeal is without merit because Loughner's attorneys are asking the lower court judge to substitute his ruling on whether Loughner poses a danger while in prison with the conclusions of mental health professionals.
In making the decision to forcibly medicate Loughner, prison authorities cited an April 4 incident in which Loughner spat on his own attorney.
They also brought up an outburst during a March 28 interview with a mental health expert in which Loughner became enraged, cursed at her and threw a plastic chair.