Monday, July 14, 2014

Circuit holds for the first time that the government can have a sufficiently important interest in forcibly medicating a defendant to restore his mental capacity and render him fit to proceed with sentencing

United States v. Cruz, No. 13-4378, 2014 WL 3360689 (July 10, 2014)

A jury convicted Cruz of two counts of threatening a federal law enforcement officer.  Prior to sentencing, the government raised concern about Cruz’s competency and moved for a determination on the matter.  The motion was granted and a BOP forensic psychologist concluded that Cruz suffered from schizophrenic disorder, bipolar type.  A second competency evaluation determined that Cruz would remain mentally incompetent, but that his competency could be restored through "a period of forced medication." The government sought an order authorizing BOP to forcibly medicate Cruz.   The district granted a hearing, pursuant to Sell v. United States, and subsequently ordered that Cruz be forcibly medicated.  Cruz moved to stay the order, which was granted, and appealed. 

The Third Circuit conducted a plain error review because Cruz raised his arguments for the first time on appeal.  Cruz failed to file an opposition to the government’s request for an order of forcible medication.  On appeal, Cruz cited to his non-concurrence to the government’s request and he argued that there was no need to file an opposition because the district court quickly scheduled an evidentiary hearing.  The Third Circuit disagreed – "Cruz was on notice of the Government’s ultimate request for relief, and he thus was or should have been aware of his obligation to oppose (or be deemed to support) it."

As to burdens of proof, the Third Circuit last addressed the Sell-specific standard of review in United States v. Grape, 549 F.3d 591 (3d Cir. 2008), in which it concluded that under Sell, the government had the burden of proof on factual questions and had little reason to address burden-shifting.  Now, the Third Circuit builds up on the Grape standard by "adopt[ing] both the Milkulich [the 6th Circuit] burden-shifting standard and the mixed standard of review set forth in Dillon [the D.C. Circuit]."

As to the Sell factors, the Third Circuit found that the government can have an important interest in restoring a defendant’s mental competency in order to proceeding with sentencing, noting that the government "cannot achieve the sort of uniformity contemplated in Booker without formal sentencing proceedings."  The Court also agreed with the district court that Cruz’s crimes were "serious."  The Court also decided that the district court did not commit reversible error in relying on the PSR because Cruz raised that issue for the first time in his Reply Brief.

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