Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166, 11 (2003)

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Opinion of the Court

How was it possible for Sell to appeal from such an order? The law normally requires a defendant to wait until the end of the trial to obtain appellate review of a pretrial order. The relevant jurisdictional statute, 28 U. S. C. 1291, authorizes federal courts of appeals to review "final decisions of the district courts." (Emphasis added.) And the term "final decision" normally refers to a final judgment, such as a judgment of guilt, that terminates a criminal proceeding.

Nonetheless, there are exceptions to this rule. The Court has held that a preliminary or interim decision is appealable as a "collateral order" when it (1) "conclusively determine[s] the disputed question," (2) "resolve[s] an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action," and (3) is "effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment." Coopers & Lybrand v. Livesay, 437 U. S. 463, 468 (1978). And this District Court order does appear to fall within the "collateral order" exception.

The order (1) "conclusively determine[s] the disputed question," namely, whether Sell has a legal right to avoid forced medication. Ibid. The order also (2) "resolve[s] an important issue," for, as this Court's cases make clear, involuntary medical treatment raises questions of clear constitutional importance. Ibid. See Winston v. Lee, 470 U. S. 753, 759 (1985) ("A compelled surgical intrusion into an individual's body . . . implicates expectations of privacy and security" of great magnitude); see also Riggins, supra, at 133-134; Cruzan v. Director, Mo. Dept. of Health, 497 U. S. 261, 278-279 (1990); Washington v. Harper, 494 U. S. 210, 221-222 (1990). At the same time, the basic issue—whether Sell must undergo medication against his will—is "completely separate from the merits of the action," i. e., whether Sell is guilty or innocent of the crimes charged. Coopers & Lybrand, 437 U. S., at 468. The issue is wholly separate as well from questions concerning trial procedures. Finally, the issue is (3) "effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment." Ibid. By the time of trial Sell will have undergone

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