by David Darr

Today, in United States v. Chatmon, an unpublished per curium opinion, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision of the Eastern District of Virginia finding that Frank Chatmon should be forcibly medicated in order to restore Chatmon’s competency for trial.

Were There Less Intrusive Alternatives?

The primary issue in this appeal was whether there were less intrusive alternatives to involuntary medication that would restore Chatmon’s competency to stand trial.

Chatmon’s First Appeal and Remand

Frank Chatmon was charged in federal court with conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine. Chatmon also suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. Federal psychologists found that this rendered Chatmon incompetent to stand trial. The district court ordered a full evaluation to see if Chatmon’s competence could be restored. That evaluation revealed that Chatmon’s competence could likely be restored if he is treated with haloperidol decanoate, an antipsychotic. Chatmon refused mediation and the government moved to have Chatmon involuntarily medicated. The district court evaluated the government’s motion using the Sell test, which is a four part test for involuntary medication that requires: (1) an important government interest not lessened by special circumstances; (2) a substantial likelihood of rendering the defendant competent; (3) the involuntary medication is necessary to further the governments interest and less intrusive means are unlikely to achieve a similar result; and (4) the treatment is medically appropriate and in the patient’s best interests. The district court found that all four factors were met and ordered that Chatmon be forcibly medicated. This led to Chatmon’s first appeal.

On Chatmon’s first appeal to the Fourth Circuit, he argued that the district court erred in granting the government’s motion for involuntary medication because open therapy and residence in an open population were less intrusive than medication and likely to restore Chatmon to competency. The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded the district court’s decision so that the district court could explore these less restrictive means, but also found that the first, second, and fourth factors of the Sell test were properly applied. On remand, the district court attempted to compel Chatmon to take the medication voluntarily by holding him in contempt. This was ineffective. The district court then reviewed expert testimony that said that Chatmon’s behavior improved in open situations, but that this change in behavior would not be enough to make him competent for trial. The experts suggested that the only effective means of restoring competency was medication. Chatmon presented no rebuttal evidence to these experts. The district court then ruled that there were no less intrusive means of restoring Chatmon to competency and ordered Chatmon to be forcibly medicated. From this order, Chatmon again appealed.

Sell Test Controls for Involuntary Medication

Once again, the Fourth Circuit used the Sell test for involuntary medication to decide the appeal. Specifically, the court only examined the third factor of whether there is a less intrusive means to render the defendant competent. The Fourth Circuit had previously ruled that the other three factors were met. The government had the burden of proof and the standard of proof was clear and convincing evidence.

No Clear Error in District Court’s Decision

The Fourth Circuit found no clear error in the district court’s decision to force involuntary medication. The government had met its burden of proof by producing expert testimony concerning other less intrusive options. The district court did its due diligence by holding Chatmon in contempt, holding a hearing, and taking testimony. The Fourth Circuit found it particularly convincing that Chatmon had been placed in open confinement for the previous two years and yet had not regained competency. Therefore, there was clear and convincing evidence that there were no less intrusive means of restoring Chatmon’s competency other than forcible medication.

The Fourth Circuit Affirms

For the reasons stated above, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision of the Eastern District of Virginia to forcibly medicate Chatmon.