What defenses are available for criminal defendants?

The different defenses that are available for a criminal defendant vary with each case and the facts surrounding that case. One defense that is available for some defendants is that the defendant is not competent to stand trial. However, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday that this may not be a valid defense anymore.

The Oregon Supreme Court's decision goes directly against a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003. That decision laid out a four-factor test that was to be used in determining whether to force medication on a suspect who is found mentally unfit to stand trial. One of the determinations that must be made before the suspect can be forced to take it was to deem the medication appropriate and unlikely to have side effects that would undermine the suspect's ability to assist in his own defense. Additionally, they must determine that there is no alternative and that the medication furthers government interests to see the issue taken to trial.

As of Thursday, state judges can force defendants to take medication against their will so they can be competent to stand trial. The case before the Oregon Supreme Court was an appeal by James Lopes of an order that he be forcibly medicated. Lopes had been found mentally unfit to stand trial on first-degree sex abuse charges.

When the hospital required a court order, Lopes objected. He said that he couldn't be forced to take medication. However, a trial court can demand that a person who has a "substantial probability" to regain the capacity to stand trial be kept in the hospital. Otherwise, they must be freed or civilly committed to a psychiatric institution.

Prior to his case going before the Oregon Supreme Court, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Eric Bloch found that Lopes could regain his ability to stand trial if he was medicated. As a result, Judge Bloch ordered a psychiatric hospital to treat Lopes' delusions with medication. This order was appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court.

The Oregon Supreme Court found that Lopes could not be forced to take the medication because his case failed the 4-factor test: Lopes had spent more time in the state mental hospital waiting for trial than he would have spent if convicted, so his trial did not further government interests. In making it's final decision, the Court did spell out that judges do have the right, if the suspect's situation passes the four-factor test, to make them take the medication.

Source: Chron, Court: Suspects can be ordered to take meds, Nigel Duara, 3/20/14

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