Diaz: Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Holds Government May Medicate Federal Criminal Defendant Involuntarily to Render Him Competent to Stand Trial

Michael Diaz was charged with armed robbery and gun offenses nearly seven years ago. Since the age of 13, he has “changed identities” five times and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and psychosis. He represented himself during a bench trial in 2006, but the Eleventh Circuit vacated his convictions, holding that he had not knowingly waived his right to a jury trial. He refused treatment for his mental illness and was found incompetent to stand re-trial.

In 2003, the Supreme Court addressed involuntarily medicating criminal defendants for the sole purpose of rendering them competent to stand trial in Sell v. U.S. Last week in Diaz, the Eleventh Circuit explained:

Sell laid out these four standards the government must satisfy for involuntary medication to render a defendant competent to stand trial: (1) important government interests must be at stake, (2) involuntary medication must significantly further the state interests in assuring a fair and timely trial, (3) involuntary medication must be necessary to further the state interests, and (4) administration of the medication must be “medically appropriate, i.e., in the patient’s best medical interest in light of his medical condition.”

In Diaz, the Eleventh Circuit held that the government must prove the Sell factors by clear and convincing evidence. The Court further held that the medication would significantly further the government interests because it would likely render Diaz competent and the side effects would not significantly interfere with his ability to assist counsel. The Court also held that medication was needed to further the government’s interest because less intrusive methods, like psychotherapy, are unlikely to achieve the same results.

The Eleventh Circuit’s opinion is available here.