Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166, 3 (2003)

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courts typically address involuntary medical treatment as a civil matter. If a court decides that medication cannot be authorized on alternative grounds, its findings will help to inform expert opinion and judicial decisionmaking in respect to a request to administer drugs for trial competence purposes. Pp. 181-183.

3. The Eighth Circuit erred in approving forced medication solely to render Sell competent to stand trial. Because that court and the District Court held the Magistrate's dangerousness finding clearly erroneous, this Court assumes that Sell was not dangerous. And on that hypothetical assumption, the Eighth Circuit erred in reaching its conclusion. For one thing, the Magistrate did not find forced medication legally justified on trial competence grounds alone. Moreover, the experts at the Magistrate's hearing focused mainly on dangerousness. The failure to focus on trial competence could well have mattered, for this Court cannot tell whether the medication's side effects were likely to undermine the fairness of Sell's trial, a question not necessarily relevant when dangerousness is primarily at issue. Finally, the lower courts did not consider that Sell has been confined at the Medical Center for a long time, and that his refusal to be medicated might result in further lengthy confinement. Those factors, the first because a defendant may receive credit toward a sentence for time served and the second because it reduces the likelihood of the defendant's committing future crimes, moderate the importance of the governmental interest in prosecution. The Government may pursue its forced medication request on the grounds discussed in this Court's opinion but should do so based on current circumstances, since Sell's condition may have changed over time. Pp. 183-186.

282 F. 3d 560, vacated and remanded.

Breyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which O'Connor and Thomas, JJ., joined, post, p. 186.

Barry A. Short, by appointment of the Court, 537 U. S. 1087, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Neal F. Perryman, Mark N. Light, Norman S. London, and Lee T. Lawless.

Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben argued the cause for the United States. With him on the briefs were Solicitor

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