Forced administration of medication to restore defendant to competency to stand trial under the Sell standard

Oregon State Hosp. v. Butts, 359 P.3d 1187 (Or. 2015)

Mandamus action cannot be used by hospital where defendant is being treated to challenge decision of trial court that Sell standard has been met

Background: Daniel Butts was charged with 21 felony counts, including nine counts of aggravated murder. When the Circuit Court found him unable to assist in his own defense, Butts was committed to a state hospital. The Circuit Court then entered a Sell order, directing the hospital to involuntarily medicate Butts in order to restore his competency to stand trial. The hospital, having determined that the treatment was not medically necessary, petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to vacate the order, and the Supreme Court of Oregon issued an alternative writ of mandamus while it heard the parties’ arguments.

Holdings: The Supreme Court of Oregon ultimately dismissed the alternative writ of mandamus. It held that (1) mandamus relief was not available to the hospital based solely on its disagreement with the trial court’s findings of fact, and (2) the trial court had implied authority under the applicable statute (determination of fitness statute) to issue a Sell order. The Supreme Court began its discussion of the mandamus issue by stating that “it has become hornbook law in this state that the writ of mandamus cannot be used as a means of controlling judicial discretion.” A writ of mandamus can only be used if the trial court’s decision represents “fundamental legal error” or is “outside the permissible range of discretionary choices.” Thus, the primary issue on review was whether the trial court had the power to order the hospital to involuntarily medicate Butts when the hospital did not agree that the medication was medically necessary.

The Supreme Court of Oregon noted that it had already concluded that courts have implicit authority to issue Sell orders. It noted that the trial court “made extensive findings of fact based on medical evidence” and did so “after resolving disputed factual issues based on medical testimony in the proper exercise of its role as factfinder.” Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Oregon rejected the hospital’s argument that it should be granted “veto power” where a hospital disagrees with a court’s issuance of a Sell order.

Found in Found in DMHL Volume 34, Issue 4