A federal appeals court will hear arguments Tuesday on requests from attorneys for the Tucson, Ariz., shooting rampage suspect to halt their mentally ill client's forced medication with psychotropic drugs and rescind his stay at a Missouri prison facility.
Jared Lee Loughner's lawyers have asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to end their client's commitment at the prison in Springfield, Mo., where mental health experts are trying to make him psychologically fit to stand trial.
Loughner has been treated for his mental illness in Missouri after U.S. District Judge Larry Burns in May declared him mentally unfit to stand trial.
However, Burns ruled in late September that it's probable the 23-year-old can be made fit for trial, and ordered that Loughner's four-month stay in Missouri be extended by another four months.
Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson that killed six people and injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others.
Prosecutors asked the appeals court to reject the requests by Loughner's lawyers, saying Burns made the correct decision in extending Loughner's stay in Missouri.
Defense attorneys argued Loughner's forced medication to treat bipolar disorder has violated his rights and that there's no evidence he can be made mentally fit for trial in the next four months. They said even if Loughner can be made fit, his right to a fair trial could be violated because of the possible sedative effect of the drugs he's being forced to take.
Loughner's lawyers cited their client's behavior at a Sept. 28 hearing during which he appeared to be paying attention but sat still and expressionless even as witnesses testified about emotional topics, including the shooting and Loughner's mental health. They say such behavior at a trial would harm Loughner's chances of receiving a fair trial.
Defense lawyers also say Burns failed to fully consider possible negative side effects from Loughner's forced medication or put a limit on his future dosage.
Prosecutors said Christina Pietz, a psychologist who has been treating Loughner, has testified that Loughner is improving and hasn't experienced side effects from the drugs.
Another key issue in Loughner's appeal is whether prison officials or a judge should decide whether a mentally ill person who poses a danger in prison should be forcibly medicated. Prosecutors say the decision is for prison officials to make, while Loughner's lawyers say it's up to a judge.
A week ago, Burns ruled the prison is justified in giving Loughner drugs to confront the danger he poses to himself. He said a hearing in his court, therefore, is unnecessary.