By Mary Slosson
PASADENA, Calif (Reuters) - Attorneys for Jared Loughner, who is accused of shooting Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killing six others, argued at an appeals court hearing on Thursday that forcing him to take anti-psychotic drugs could cause irreparable damage.
But 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski expressed skepticism during the hearing, which was held in Pasadena, a few miles from Los Angeles.
The three-judge appeals court adjourned without making a ruling and gave no indication how long it would deliberate after the hearing, which Loughner did not attend.
A federal judge has declared Loughner, a 22 year-old college dropout, incompetent to stand trial in May for the January 8 shooting spree.
He has been undergoing psychiatric evaluation at a federal prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri, to determine whether or not his ability to understand court proceedings can be restored.
In June, Loughner's attorneys filed an emergency petition to order prison officials to stop forcibly medicating him, but the federal judge rejected it and said he would defer to the judgment of doctors treating him.
At Thursday's appeals court hearing, Loughner's defense lawyer Reuben Camper Cahn argued that forcibly medicating him amounted to a "serious invasion on personal liberty" resulting in "irreparable damage."
"Nothing can reverse the injury done to him," Cahn said.
Kozinski expressed doubt permanent damage could result, comparing the situation to a person taking pain medication.
"I don't buy it," Kozinski said.
Loughner is accused of opening fire on Representative Gabrielle Giffords and a crowd of bystanders at a political gathering held by the congresswoman at a Tucson supermarket. Six victims were killed and 13 were wounded, including Giffords, who is still recovering from a gunshot to the head.
The Thursday appeals court arguments lasted over an hour and a half, as Kozinski and fellow judges grilled both sides.
Prison officials in the Missouri prison hospital where he was being evaluated have forcibly medicated Loughner by threatening to strap him down and inject him if he does not take pills prescribed by his doctors, Cahn said.
Cahn called that an "injury to dignity," despite the fact that actual force is not used in medicating Loughner.
In response, prosecuting attorney Christina Canabillis argued that Loughner's behavior in the prison hospital provided doctors with due cause for medication.
Loughner threw chairs multiple times and spat toward one of his attorneys, according to court documents.
Such behavior is clearly dangerous to the people trying to determine his competency to stand trial, Canabillis argued.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Peter Bohan)