The Georgia Supreme Court has thrown out a court order that would have forced a man accused of the 2010 shooting rampage that killed four people at a Penske Trucking Company to take anti-psychotic medication so he could stand trial for murder.
One Rome man was seriously injured in the shooting.
According to a Supreme Court of Georgia release:
The Supreme Court of Georgia has thrown out a Cobb County court order that would have forced a man deemed mentally incompetent to take anti-psychotic medication so he could stand trial for murder.
In this high-profile case, the State is seeking the death penalty against Jesse James Warren for the 2010 shooting rampage at the Penske Trucking Company that left four dead.
But in today’s 53-page decision, written by Justice David Nahmias,“we conclude that the trial court’s order was insufficient in numerous respects to justify Warren’s involuntary medication for the sole purpose of making him mentally competent to stand trial for the very serious crimes he is accused of committing.” As a result, “we vacate the trial court’s order and remand the case for further proceedings in light of this opinion.”
According to briefs filed in the case, on Jan. 12, 2010, Warren, armed and dressed in camouflage clothing, went to the Penske truck rental facility in Kennesaw, GA and opened fire, shooting five men, four of whom were employees. A fifth was a customer who happened to be there at the time. Three died within a couple of days of the shooting. The fourth died more than three years later. The fifth shooting victim was paralyzed. Warren had previously worked at the facility before being fired in 2008. He was originally indicted with three counts of murder, and the State filed notice it would seek the death penalty. After the fourth man later died, Warren was re-indicted in October 2013 with four counts of malice murder and four counts of felony murder, along with a number of other charges.
Warren’s attorneys filed a Notice of Intent of Defense to Raise Issues of Insanity, Mental Illness, or Mental Retardation. They also filed a Special Plea of Mental Incompetency to Stand Trial. Following a hearing, the trial court ordered he be evaluated by doctors from the Georgia
Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. Following an examination by Dr. Brian Schief, a psychiatrist, and Dr. Don Hughey, a psychologist, who diagnosed him with “Delusional Disorder, Mixed Type,” in May 2013, the trial court found Warren, 60, incompetent to stand trial. The judge ordered he be committed to the Department of Behavioral Health for further evaluation. Since then, Warren has remained in Central State Hospital, a state psychiatric hospital. In September 2013, Drs. Schief and Hughey notified the court that Warren remained incompetent. Among his delusions, he told police following his arrest that he had been awarded $500 million for his work in the Navy on a broadband communication project and that it had been stolen, according to briefs filed in the case. He also believed he was the Son of God, had been given his name by the Masons, and members of his church were “out to get him.” The State filed a Motion to Compel Involuntary Antipsychotic Medication, his attorneys opposed the motion, and following a hearing in June 2014, the judge granted the State’s motion to force the medication. Warren’s attorneys then appealed the pre-trial ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court.
His attorneys argued the trial court’s ruling did not meet the four-pronged test set out in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Sell v. United States. Under Sell, four requirements must be met to force the administration of antipsychotic drugs solely for the purpose of restoring defendants to competency: A court must find that an important governmental interest is at stake; that the administration of the drugs is “substantially likely to render the defendant competent to stand trial” and “substantially unlikely to have side effects” that will interfere with his ability to assist his lawyer in conducting his defense; that involuntary medication is necessary because other less intrusive treatments are unlikely to achieve the same results; and that the medication is medically appropriate.
Today’s opinion addresses each of the four parts of the Sell test in detail, finding “clear errors in the trial court’s ruling.” In relation to finding an important governmental interest, while the trial court’s findings were incomplete, “the court did not err in its conclusion that the State demonstrated important governmental interests in rendering Warren competent to stand trial, and those interests are not offset by any special circumstances of the case.” “Warren is accused, among other crimes, of shooting five people, killing four of them and paralyzing the fifth,” the opinion says. “These are crimes against persons of the most serious magnitude.”
However, with regard to the remaining three steps of the Sell test, the trial court’s order merely recites the relevant language from Sell, providing insufficient written findings for the Supreme Court to review. The “fundamental problem” with the trial court’s ruling on the second, third and fourth parts of the test “is that the court has not specified what antipsychotic medication or medications may be forcibly administered to Warren, in what dosage or range of dosages, for what period of time, and with what oversight by the court,” the opinion says. “This is a problem created by the State – which drafted the order the trial court signed – because the State has not presented a specific treatment plan for Warren supported by expert testimony, nor can any particular treatment plan be readily discerned from the evidence offered at the hearing.” This is not the first time the issue has come up. At the hearing on the State’s motion, Warren’s attorneys asked the trial court to require the State to provide a specific treatment plan, but the State objected and the court denied the request. The State has contended that it is impossible to establish a specific treatment plan for Warren, the opinion says, because the only way to know how any given patient will respond to antipsychotic medication is to administer various drugs and see what happens through “trial and error.”
But “Sell did not condone – nor will this Court allow – trial courts to cede oversight of such a significant constitutional matter to the State, allowing its doctors to force a mentally ill criminal defendant to take whatever medications in whatever dosages and for whatever period of time they consider appropriate,” the opinion says. “We would hope that the State’s physicians, as healthcare professionals, would not misuse such unfettered authority, but history teaches that involuntary medical treatment, especially of the poor, the outcast, and the incarcerated, is worthy of close and independent oversight.”
Today’s opinion points out that since the June 2014 hearing on the State’s motion to force medication, it is possible Warren’s mental and physical condition has changed or that new scientific information is available regarding antipsychotic drugs and their likely effectiveness and side effects. “Consequently, if the State elects to pursue its motion for involuntary medication on remand, the trial court should allow the parties to present additional evidence to ensure that the court’s findings are based on current circumstances,” the opinion says.