Monday, March 05, 2012

U.S. v. Loughner (9th Cir. - March 5, 2012)

It has taken me half the day to read the entirety of this 117-page (single spaced!) opinion, as well as to try to get my head around it.  It's complicated.  Seriously, seriously complicated.

But, in the end, let me say the following.  Jared Loughner -- the guy who shot Gabrielle Giffords and who killed Judge Roll and several others -- is nutty.  Seriously, seriously nutty.  I have no doubt that he's a schizophrenic.  He needs to take medication.  For his own sake as well as for the sake of others.

I hear what Judge Bybee says.  I hear Judge Wallace's caveats.  I understand Judge Berzon's dissent.  We're talking about procedural as well as substantive stuff here.  Concepts that extend far beyond this particular case.

But it's hard.  Hard not to lose sight of the proper result here.  That's about the only thing about which I feel fairly confident.

Loughner should take drugs.  Hard core, heavy duty drugs.  It's in his interests.  It's in everybody's interest.  The guy cannot function if left alone, unmedicated.  That's essentially beyond dispute.  He won't be competent to stand trial.  He won't be competent to carry on a conversation, or even any kind of meaningful life.  About the only thing he'll be somewhat competent to do is to hang himself.  And while that might perhaps be fine, it's not what our justice system wants.

So notwithstanding what Judge Berzon says -- and she's got some darn good points -- I'm okay with forcing the guy to swallow pills.  As well as compelling his treatment -- his "commitment" -- in the first place.  Sure, I have no doubt they did so in order to restore his competency so he could be found guilty at trial.  And I similarly have no doubt that they wanted to avoid getting a court order because they thought (rightly) that it'd be much more expedient to forcibly medicate the guy without one.

But there are some cases in which I'm probably okay with that.  And this one is probably one of those. Am I concerned about lower-profile cases?  Yes.  Am I concerned about defendants with counsel who might be less aggressive and/or diligent than the ones here?  Sure.

But, in this case, for whatever reason, I'm not inclined to bend over backwards to put up roadblocks to doing what -- for this particular person -- seems clearly the right call.

Maybe Judge Berzon's correct that Judge Bybee has blinded me to the true issues.  Maybe I am letting an easier case make bad law.  I admit that all those may well be true.

But that's still how I feel.  Loughner should be taking his drugs.  And I'm not sad that Judge Burns has been willing to let that happen.