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United States v. Zeppellini

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 23, 2018


          ORDER (DOCKET NO. 74)


         Pending before the Court is the United States' motion for psychiatric treatment. Docket No. 74. The Court has considered the United States' motion, the United States' sealed proposed treatment plan, Defendant's response, and Defendant's sealed psychiatric examination and evaluation. Docket Nos. 74, 75, 83, 84. The United States did not file a reply, and the time to do so has now expired. See Docket. The Court finds the motion properly resolved without a hearing.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 30, 2016, a federal grand jury sitting in Las Vegas, Nevada, issued an indictment charging Defendant Mirko Zeppellini with four counts of wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343, and three counts of money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1956(a)(1)(B)(i) and 2. Docket No. 1. Defendant was arrested on December 8, 2016, and made his initial appearance on the same date. Docket Nos. 5, 12. After a detention hearing, Defendant was ordered detained pending trial. Docket Nos. 5, 11.

         On February 17, 2017, after a hearing with Defendant and his then-counsel, the Court found that it had reasonable cause to believe Defendant may be suffering from a mental disease or defect that rendered unable to understand the nature of the proceedings against him or properly assist his defense. The Court therefore ordered a mental competency evaluation of Defendant. See Docket No. 23. On May 8, 2017, after receiving the forensic evaluation of Defendant, the Court found Defendant currently incompetent to stand trial and ordered him placed in a facility for competency restoration. Docket Nos. 43, 46.

         On November 27, 2017, the Court held a status conference regarding Defendant's competency. Docket No. 64. See also Docket No. 65. The United States submitted that, based on Defendant's failure to obtain competency, it would ask for involuntary medication to restore his competency. Docket No. 64. The United States has now moved the Court to order involuntary medication with antipsychotics under Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003).[2]

         II. ANALYSIS

         A criminal defendant “has a ‘significant' constitutionally protected ‘liberty interest' in ‘avoiding the unwanted administration of antipsychotic drugs.'” Sell, 539 U.S. at 178 (quoting Harper, 494 U.S. at 221). Antipsychotic medications affect cognition, concentration, behavior, and demeanor, and cause a personality change that, “if unwanted, interferes with a person's self-autonomy, and can impair his or her ability to function in particular contexts.” United States v. Williams, 356 F.3d 1045, 1054 (9th Cir. 2004). Additionally, these drugs “can have serious, even fatal, side effects.” Id. (quoting Harper, 494 U.S. at 229-230).

         “The government is allowed to medicate a defendant involuntarily for the purpose of rendering him competent to stand trial only in rare circumstances.” United States v. Ruix-Gaxiola, 623 F.3d 684, 687 (9th Cir. 2010). “When the government seeks to medicate a defendant involuntarily for competency purposes, it must establish by clear and convincing evidence the four Sell factors.” United States v. Gillenwater, 749 F.3d 1094, 1100 (9th Cir. 2014). Those factors are: (1) “that important governmental interests are at stake[;]” (2) “that involuntary medication will significantly further” those interests; (3) “that involuntary medication is necessary to further those interests[;]” and (4) “that administration of the drugs is medically appropriate.” Sell, 539 U.S. at 180-81. The Sell factors “do not represent a balancing test, but a set of independent requirements, each of which must be found to be true before the forcible administration of psychotropic drugs may be considered constitutionally permissible.” Ruiz-Gaxiola, 623 F.3d 684 at 691.

         “Orders authorizing involuntary medication pursuant to this standard are ‘disfavored.'” Id. at 688 (quoting United States v. Rivera-Guerrero, 426 F.3d 1130, 1137 (9th Cir. 2005)). The Court has “refus[ed] to permit involuntary medication except in highly-specific factual and medical circumstances.” Ruiz-Gaxiola, 623 F.3d at 691 (quoting Rivera-Guerrero, 426 F.3d at 1136).

         The Court therefore analyzes each Sell factor in turn.

         A. Important Governmental Interests

         The first factor of the Sell test requires the United States to establish “that important governmental interests are at stake.” Sell, 539 U.S. at 180. The government has an important “interest in bringing to trial an individual accused of a serious crime.” Id. “That is so whether the offense is a serious crime against the person or a serious crime against property.” Id. To determine whether a crime is serious enough to satisfy the first Sell factor, “the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines range is ‘the appropriate starting point' because it is the ‘best available predictor of the length of a defendant's incarceration.'” United States v. Onuoha, 820 F.3d 1049, 1044-1055 (9th Cir. 2016) (quoting United States v. Hernandez-Vasquez, 513 F.3d 908, 919 (9th Cir. 2007).

         “But the Guidelines range is only the starting point in determining whether the government has an important interest in prosecution.” Onuoha, 820 F.3d at 1055 (internal citation omitted). In Sell, the Supreme Court found that courts also “must consider the facts of the individual case in evaluating the Government's interest in prosecution.” 539 U.S. at 180. Therefore, the Sentencing Guidelines range is not “the only factor that should be considered” because it does “not reflect the full universe of relevant circumstances.” Hernandez-Vasquez, 513 F.3d at 919. Other relevant circumstances can “include the time a defendant has served while awaiting trial and the possibility of future civil confinement” and, if a defendant has prior convictions, “the predatory nature of those offenses[ ] and the closeness in time of the prior offenses to the current prosecution.” Id. Additionally, courts have considered the specific facts of the alleged crime. Onuoha, 820 F.3d at 1055. See Id. (despite low Guidelines range and lack of criminal history, defendant's charged conduct of phoning airport officials urging evacuation on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks threatened “the basic human need for security” and therefore satisfied the first Sell factor); Gillenwater, 749 F.3d at 1101 (defendant's threats to choke, ...

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