MENTAL ILLNESS: Texas High Court Strikes Down Forcible Medication of A Death Row Inmate

On September 11, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held (5-4) that a trial court illegally ordered the forcible medication of a mentally ill death row inmate for the purpose of rendering him competent to be executed. The case involves Steven Staley, whose mental health began to deteriorate when he entered death row in 1991. He received an execution date in 2006, but was deemed too ill to be executed. A court ordered that his paranoid schizophrenia be treated by forcible medication, which continued for six years. In its ruling, the CCA held that “the evidence conclusively shows that appellant's competency to be executed was achieved solely through the involuntary medication, which the trial court had no authority to order under the competency-to-be-executed statute. The finding that appellant is competent must be reversed for lack of any evidentiary support.” The ruling did not address whether the state constitution forbids the execution of someone forcibly drugged or whether the defendant in this case is too ill to be executed at all. Read full text of the ruling here.

(J. Smith, "Court Rules Judge Didn't Have Right to Forcibly Medicate Death Row Inmate," Austin Chronicle, September 11, 2013; Staley v. Texas, No. AP-76,798, Sept. 11, 2013).  Courts in Louisiana and South Carolina have held that forcibly medicating a death row inmate to make him or her competent to be executed is unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue. See Mental Illness.