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Judge refuses to halt forced medication of Arizona shooting suspect

From Sara Weisfeldt, CNN
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Should Loughner be medicated?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The judge says he sees no reason to disagree with prison doctors
  • Jared Lee Loughner is charged in the Tucson mass shooting in which six were killed
  • Forcing Loughner to take powerful drugs violates his rights, lawyers say
  • Prosecutors say the medication is necessary to control his schizophrenia

San Diego (CNN) -- A federal judge on Wednesday rejected a motion by lawyers for Jared Lee Loughner to prevent prison doctors from forcibly medicating the Arizona shooting suspect.

"I defer to medical judgement," U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns said in ruling that prison doctors were within their rights to force Loughner to take mind-altering psychotropic drugs against his will. "I have no reason to disagree with the doctors here."

Burns, who conducted the hearing in his San Diego court, also ordered that sensitive medical and legal documents relating to Loughner's treatment for mental illness remain sealed.

Loughner has already started receiving the powerful drugs, Wednesday's hearing revealed.

Lawyers representing Loughner contend that forcing him to take the drugs against his will violates his rights. Authorities at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, where Loughner is being held, should have tried lesser restraints such as milder tranquilizers, argued Reuben Camper Cahn, one of Loughner's lawyers.

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Prison authorities "allowed competing objectives to interfere" by ordering the psychotropic drugs, which are for treating mental illness, in an effort to restore Loughner to mental competency so he can stand trial -- as desired by law enforcement and judicial systems, Cahn asserted.

Prosecutors responded Tuesday that prison officials acted properly in ordering the medication, which they said was necessary for Loughner to control his mental illness.

"This is a person who is a ticking time bomb," proscecutor Wallace Kleindienst said. "He's lunged at his defense counsel and spits at her."

Loughner, 22, is charged in the January mass shooting in which six people were killed and 13 wounded, including Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in front of a Safeway grocery story in Tucson, Arizona. A federal judge ruled last month that Loughner was not competent to stand trial, and he was sent to the federal facility in Springfield.

Burns, at the beginning of Wednesday's hearing, suggested the federal court in Missouri, where Loughner is being held, might be where medical decisions should be made.

"If he had a bad toothache, complained about treatment, would he come to me?" Burns asked.

In their emergency motion on June 24 to halt the forced medication, Loughner's lawyers said prison officials held a deficient hearing process and used faulty reasoning in deciding to drug Loughner against his will.

For example, Loughner had no attorney present at the June 14 hearing, the lawyers said in their motion, and officials failed to state the drug and dosage he should receive.

According to the emergency motion, authorities had earlier assessed Loughner as dangerous because of incidents before his transfer to the Springfield prison: He threw a chair against a door and spat at an attorney.

However, the reasoning by prison officials in Springfield for deciding to administer the drugs was to treat Loughner's mental illness, rather than to subdue any dangerous behavior, the motion noted.

Prosecutors argued in their response that Loughner received a proper administrative hearing on the matter, and the medication prescribed was necessary to prevent him from being a danger to himself and others.

CNN's Bill Mears contributed to this report.

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