By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - A federal appeals court will consider an emergency plea by lawyers for Tucson shooting suspect Jared Loughner to overturn a ruling ordering four more months of psychiatric treatment.
A three-member panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco agreed on Sunday to decide on the motion challenging Loughner's return to a Missouri federal prison facility, where he is being forcibly medicated.
Defense attorneys sought the emergency order and appealed the September 28 decision by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns, claiming it would cause Loughner "irreparable harm" if carried out.
Defense attorneys said Burns' ruling, which followed a daylong hearing in Tucson, Arizona, was "legally erroneous" and asked that it be put on hold until the full appeal is resolved.
Loughner, who attended the hearing, was to be sent back to a facility in Springfield, Missouri, where he has been treated since May 27 to try to make him mentally fit to stand trial.
The 23-year-old college dropout has pleaded not guilty to 49 criminal charges, including first-degree murder, stemming from a January 8 shooting spree outside a Tucson grocery store during an event held by U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
Six people were killed in the shooting and 13 others were wounded, including Giffords, who was shot through the head and is recovering.
The appeals court decision came after Burns put his ruling in writing on Friday, making formal his decision to extend Loughner's treatment time in Missouri.
Burns also ruled that prison officials could continue to forcible medicate Loughner with psychotropic drugs and that prison officials acted properly regarding his treatment.
Defense attorneys have tried several times to stop the medication, claiming that forcing Loughner to take the medication violated his constitutional rights and that there is no legal basis for it.
Burns has consistently denied the attempts to halt the drugs.
The appeals court heard arguments on August 30 about whether Loughner can be medicated against his will and on the procedures that must be used by prison officials to do so.
The court has not yet issued a ruling following that hearing.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb)