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Ninth Circuit: State’s Forced Medication Order Was Properly Challenged Under Federal Habeas Corpus

The case was brought by Travis Leroy Bean, who was charged with two murders in Douglas County, Oregon, in 2016. He was found incompetent to stand trial and committed to the Oregon State Hospital (“OSH”) to determine “whether there is a substantial probability that, in the foreseeable future, the defendant will have the capacity to stand trial.” A doctor at OSH concluded that Bean was not a threat to himself or others, and an administrative judge found that he did not meet the criteria for involuntary medication.

The County District Attorney, however, moved for an order directing that Bean be forcibly medicated to restore his competency to stand trial. After a hearing under Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), in which the U.S. Supreme Court established the criteria for forced medication of a defendant, the trial court found that Bean met the criteria for forced medication. A Sell order is not immediately appealable, so Bean petitioned the Oregon Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to stop the order. His petition was denied, and Bean then filed for habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon under 28 U.S.C. § 2241.

The district court ruled that it could not intervene, citing Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). The Supreme Court held in Younger that a federal court may not intervene in a state court proceeding, except in very limited circumstances. The district court ruled that such limited circumstances weren’t present in the case and denied Bean’s habeas petition.

On appeal, the question was whether the district court had authority to hear Bean’s petition and whether any exceptions to the “Younger Abstention Doctrine” exists. The Court first explained that the district court had subject-matter jurisdiction under the “federal question” statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, to hear Bean’s petition. While the district court and the State conflated cognizability of Bean’s claim with the court’s subject-matter jurisdiction, the Ninth Circuit made clear that these two issues are distinct, and the district court had jurisdiction to hear Bean’s petition.

The Court then held that the district erred in abstaining under Younger. Federal courts must abstain from involvement in state court cases when (1) there is an ongoing proceeding, (2) the proceeding implicates state interests, (3) the defendant has an “adequate opportunity” to challenge constitutional issues, and (4) the relief would stop the state proceeding. The district court correctly found these criteria were met, the Court said.

However, “federal courts do not invoke [Younger] if there is a showing of bad faith, harassment, or some other extraordinary circumstance that would make abstention inappropriate.” Middlesex Cnty. Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass’n, 457 U.S. 423 (1982). For example, the Court explained that it has ruled Younger does not apply in cases challenging unlawful or unconstitutional pretrial detention that “cannot be vindicated post-trial.” That is, it cannot be corrected on appeal. The Court has also concluded Younger doesn’t apply where “irreparable harm” would occur. And that was the case with Bean’s habeas petition, the Court said.

“The forcible injection of medication represents a substantial interference with a person’s liberty,” the Court said. “A person possesses a significant liberty interest in avoiding the unwanted administration of antipsychotic drugs under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” explained the Court.

The Court noted that the Supreme Court has found antipsychotic drugs are a “particularly severe” invasion of liberty. First, these drugs “tinker with the mental processes, affecting cognition, concentration, behavior, and demeanor,” the Court stated. Second, they can have “serious, even fatal, side effects.” Furthermore, the State wanted to force either Seroquel, Risperdal, Haldol, or Zyprexa on Bean – none of which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration — to treat his diagnosis of delusional disorder.

“The danger of irreparable loss is both great and immediate,” the Court concluded. “Thus, although the basic Younger criteria are satisfied in this case, the irreparable harm exception to Younger applies, and the district court erred in abstaining.”

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Related legal case

Bean v. Matteucci



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