BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge says the government can force an Alabama man who threatened President Barack Obama to take medication to determine if he's competent to stand trial.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson granted a request for a court order Wednesday to medicate Deryke Matthew Pfeifer of Ozark and to involuntarily medicate him if he doesn't comply. The judge said the government's request raised questions of due process, liberty and privacy.
"This court has wrestled with the government's request because, in part, it pits Pfeifer's liberty interest in avoiding the administration of antipsychotic drugs against his liberty interest in being free," Thompson wrote in a 37-page opinion.
Pfeifer was arrested in July 2014 on charges of threatening Obama in calls to the Federal Protective Service, the Social Security Administration and in online videos. Evidence showed Pfeifer told a psychologist that God is upset with Obama, particularly over condoning same-sex relationships.
Several mental health professionals have evaluated Pfeiffer and determined he has a rare form of a delusional disorder, and doctors have said he's unlikely to regain competency for trial without medication, Thompson said.
Pfeifer has been in custody for nearly 14 months and could face up to five years in prison if he goes to trial and is found guilty, Thompson said. Pfeifer would likely be sentenced to between two and 2 ½ years if convicted and would get credit for time served, Thompson said in the opinion.
Richard K. Keith, who served as Pfeifer's guardian ad litem in the case, said in an email that he recommended forcibly medicating Pfeifer because "the alternative would have been an indefinite civil commitment."
Thompson said the same in his opinion, noting antipsychotic medication may be his best chance to avoid confinement. If Pfeifer were acquitted at trial with attorneys using an insanity defense, he could be hospitalized and later released on the condition that he take prescribed medication, Thompson said.
"In short, in terms of his chances at living a life outside of the walls of a prison, Pfeifer has much to gain from being medicated," the judge wrote.
Thompson initially ruled Pfeifer mentally incompetent without holding a hearing, but Pfeifer objected in a statement in which he told the judge he was sane. The judge vacated his ruling and held the hearing, during which Pfeifer stood before Thompson with a Bible and asked the judge to find him sane. The judge again declared Pfeifer mentally incompetent to stand trial.