Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166, 12 (2003)

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

Opinion of the Court

forced medication—the very harm that he seeks to avoid. He cannot undo that harm even if he is acquitted. Indeed, if he is acquitted, there will be no appeal through which he might obtain review. Cf. Stack, supra, at 6-7 (permitting appeal of order setting high bail as "collateral order"). These considerations, particularly those involving the severity of the intrusion and corresponding importance of the constitutional issue, readily distinguish Sell's case from the examples raised by the dissent. See post, at 191-192 (opinion of Scalia, J.).

We add that the question presented here, whether Sell has a legal right to avoid forced medication, perhaps in part because medication may make a trial unfair, differs from the question whether forced medication did make a trial unfair. The first question focuses upon the right to avoid administration of the drugs. What may happen at trial is relevant, but only as a prediction. See infra, at 181. The second question focuses upon the right to a fair trial. It asks what did happen as a result of having administered the medication. An ordinary appeal comes too late for a defendant to enforce the first right; an ordinary appeal permits vindication of the second.

We conclude that the District Court order from which Sell appealed was an appealable "collateral order." The Eighth Circuit had jurisdiction to hear the appeal. And we consequently have jurisdiction to decide the question presented, whether involuntary medication violates Sell's constitutional rights.


We turn now to the basic question presented: Does forced administration of antipsychotic drugs to render Sell competent to stand trial unconstitutionally deprive him of his "liberty" to reject medical treatment? U. S. Const., Amdt. 5 (Federal Government may not "depriv[e]" any person of "liberty . . . without due process of law"). Two prior prece-


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