Legal News
High Court Won’t Hear Appeal Of Forced Medication Case
Psychiatric News
Volume 37 Number 2 page 15-32

The U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal by Russell Weston in early December that would have kept him from being medicated against his will. Now, as federal prosecutors have wanted, he can be tried for murder if his mental illness improves enough on the medication for him to meet the court’s standard for competency to stand trial.

Weston, a 44-year-old man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, stands charged with the 1998 murder of two police officers in the U.S. Capitol.

At the time of the shootings, Weston maintained that government agents were after him, that a computer chip in one of his teeth provided him with a direct line to Russia’s ambassador, and that he had the ability to reverse time.

In April of last year, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordered that Weston, who had been medication noncompliant for much of his 20-year struggle with mental illness, be forced to take antipsychotic medications so that he would be competent enough to stand trial for the murders (Psychiatric News, April 6, 2001).

Weston appealed this decision, and in July the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit upheld a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan that Weston could be given medication against his will to treat the symptoms of his schizophrenia (Psychiatric News, September 7, 2001). The lower court’s decision rested, in part, on a 1992 Supreme Court decision in Riggins v. Nevada that said defendants can be forced to take medicine only if it is "medically appropriate." In this case, according to the D.C. court, it was medically appropriate to force Weston to take medications, and a court-appointed psychiatrist testified to that effect.

Weston’s attorney appealed that decision claiming that Weston’s Fifth Amendment rights to a fair trial would be violated by the involuntary medical treatment.

Medications could remove much of the evidence of the psychosis that was present when he allegedly killed officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson. Weston later claimed he shot the men to save the world from cannibals and deadly disease.

Although prior to the shootings Weston’s family had urged him to continue taking the medications he had been prescribed, Weston grew frustrated at the side effects and stopped taking them.

Since that time, the family has backed his decision to refuse medication, based on the possibility that if Weston is tried for the murders, he could face the death penalty. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has the final say on whether Weston will be eligible for the death penalty if he is convicted of the killings.

Shortly after the shootings, authorities sent Weston to a federal prison in Butner, N.C., where he has spent much of his time in an isolation cell. He has been deteriorating both mentally and physically, according to testimony from prior hearings.

When the Supreme Court denied Weston’s appeal last month, Weston’s attorney acknowledged that the fight to keep Weston off medications had ended and that his client would probably be medicated soon. ▪

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