Competency to Stand Trial/Restoration of Competency

Sell criteria for involuntary treatment to restore competency apply to sentencing phase

United States v. Cruz, 757 F.3d 372 (3d Cir. 2014) cert. denied, No. 14-7512, 2015 WL 133477 (U.S. Jan. 12, 2015)

Cruz was arrested and convicted on two counts of threatening a federal law enforcement officer. After the court received the pre-sentence investigation report, the prosecution successfully moved for a determination of competency. A Federal Bureau of Prisons forensic psychologist concluded that Cruz was mentally incompetent and suffered from schizophrenic disorder, bipolar type. After a hearing, the court concluded that Cruz was incompetent and found that he could not proceed with sentencing.

A second report concurred with the diagnosis, noted Cruz’s ongoing refusal to take antipsychotic medication recommended by BOP personnel, concluded that without medication Cruz would remain incompetent, and stated that “there is a substantial probability that [his] competency can be restored with a period of forced medication.” The prosecution obtained an order authorizing the BOP to medicate Cruz against his will.

On appeal, the issue was whether “the Government, pursuant to the Supreme Court's decision in Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166, 123 S.Ct. 2174, 156 L.Ed.2d 197 (2003), can have a sufficiently important interest in forcibly medicating a defendant to restore his mental competency and render him fit to proceed with sentencing.” In affirming the decision of the federal district court, the Third Circuit held that the government could have a sufficiently important interest in sentencing a defendant for serious crimes to justify involuntary medication. Relying on the stated concern in Sell that “memories may fade or evidence may be lost,” the Third Circuit held the same concern applies with equal force in the sentencing context (the guilt phase was at issue in Sell) because it means that it may be “difficult or impossible to sentence a defendant who regains competence after years of commitment.” Additionally, while it may be cognizable that some crimes are not “serious” enough to justify forcible medication at the sentencing stage, Cruz’s offense was certainly “serious” enough.

The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari in January 2015.

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 1