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United States v. Sell

United States Supreme Court
539 U.S. 166, 123 S.Ct. 2174, 156 L.Ed.2d 197 (2003)


The federal government (plaintiff) charged Charles Sell (defendant) with various non-violent fraud-related offenses. Sell's years-long mental illness and his wild, threatening pre-trial behavior led the federal district court magistrate to commit Sell to a prison hospital until his mental competence to stand trial could be restored. Sell refused the antipsychotic drugs that hospital staffers prescribed in order to restore Sell's competency and reduce the danger he posed to himself and others. The staff requested permission to administer the drugs despite Sell's objections. Successive reviewers, all of whom focused on Sell's dangerousness, endorsed the staff's request. The magistrate judge ordered Sell's involuntary medication, making it clear that he did so on both danger-reduction and trial-competency grounds, and not to restore competency alone. The district court specifically rejected the magistrate's finding that Sell was a present danger to himself or others, but ordered Sell's involuntary medication solely to restore his competency. Both the government and Sell appealed. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court's judgment, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Breyer, J.)

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