Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166, 4 (2003)

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Cite as: 539 U. S. 166 (2003)

Opinion of the Court

General Olson, Assistant Attorney General Chertoff, Lisa Schiavo Blatt, and Joseph C. Wyderko.*

Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court. The question presented is whether the Constitution permits the Government to administer antipsychotic drugs involuntarily to a mentally ill criminal defendant—in order to render that defendant competent to stand trial for serious, but nonviolent, crimes. We conclude that the Constitution allows the Government to administer those drugs, even against the defendant's will, in limited circumstances, i. e., upon satisfaction of conditions that we shall describe. Because the Court of Appeals did not find that the requisite circumstances existed in this case, we vacate its judgment.



Petitioner Charles Sell, once a practicing dentist, has a long and unfortunate history of mental illness. In September 1982, after telling doctors that the gold he used for fillings had been contaminated by communists, Sell was hospitalized, treated with antipsychotic medication, and subsequently discharged. App. 146. In June 1984, Sell called the police to say that a leopard was outside his office boarding a bus, and he then asked the police to shoot him. Id., at 148; Record, Forensic Report, p. 1 (June 20, 1997) (Sealed). Sell

*Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri by Peter A. Joy; for the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics by Richard Glen Boire; for the Drug Policy Alliance by David T. Goldberg and Daniel N. Abrahamson; for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers by Burton H. Shostak; for the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers by Joshua L. Dratel; and for the Rutherford Institute by John W. Whitehead and Steven H. Aden.

Briefs of amici curiae were filed for the American Psychological Association by David W. Ogden, Paul R. Q. Wolfson, and Nathalie F. P. Gilfoyle; and for the American Psychiatric Association et al. by Richard G. Taranto.


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