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United States v. Chatmon, No. 12-4725

Decided: June 10, 2013

The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia’s decision to allow the government to forcibly medicate Chatmon in order to restore his competency to stand trial.

Chatmon was arrested and charged with conspiracy to distribute large amounts of crack cocaine and heroin. Before he could be tried, however, his attorney filed a motion requesting a formal competency evaluation. The motion was granted and the evaluation revealed that Chatmon suffered from Schizophrenia, a mental disease that rendered him “unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him.” Consequently, Chatmon was deemed incompetent to stand trial. Thereafter, he was hospitalized and treatment was initiated to determine whether he might be restored to competency such that the criminal proceedings could go forward. Beginning in September 2011, a competency restoration evaluation was undertaken. On December 9, 2011, a final report was produced (“December Report”) confirming Chatmon’s initial diagnosis; however, the report also indicated that, although he remained incompetent to stand trial, there was a substantial probability that a period of treatment with an antipsychotic medication, known as haloperidol decanoate, could restore his competency. Following the competency restoration report, Chatmon was transferred from a restrictive movement unit to an open population unit within the treatment facility. While in the open unit, Chatmon demonstrated notable improvement in his behavior although no additional competency evaluation was undertaken. On January 10, 2012, the December Report was submitted to the parties and the district court. Based on the December Report, the government filed a motion to forcibly medicate. The motion was heard on August 29, 2011. Following the hearing, the district court issued an order permitting the government to forcibly medicate Chatmon against his will. This appeal followed.

In its review, the Fourth Circuit employed the four-part analysis provided by Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003). The court first addressed Chatmon’s contention that the first prong of Sell was not met because the district court incorrectly deemed his drug trafficking charge a “serious” crime. Rejecting this argument, the Fourth Circuit observed that the central consideration when determining whether a particular crime is serious enough to satisfy this factor is the maximum penalty authorized by statute. Here, because Chatmon was potentially facing life imprisonment, the court held that it was clear his drug trafficking charge was a “serious” crime under the Sell framework. Next, the court addressed Chatmon’s challenge relating to the third Sell factor, the existence of less intrusive means for restoring competency. Vacating and remanding the district court’s decision, the Fourth Circuit found that the lower court erred in its analysis of the third Sell factor. Specifically, in its analysis, the district court not only failed to actually consider less intrusive means offered by Chatmon; it also failed to recognize Sell’s specific requirement that the court “must consider” less intrusive means for administering the medication such as a court order backed by contempt sanctions.

Full Opinion

-W. Ryan Nichols