The federal appeals court in St. Louis ruled yesterday that officials in Arkansas can force a prisoner on death row to take antipsychotic medication to make him sane enough to execute. Without the drugs, the prisoner, Charles Laverne Singleton, could not be put to death under a United States Supreme Court decision that prohibits the execution of the insane.
Yesterday's 6-to-5 decision is the first by a federal appeals court to allow such an execution.
"Singleton presents the court with a choice between involuntary medication followed by an execution and no medication followed by psychosis and imprisonment," Judge Roger L. Wollman wrote for the majority in ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Judge Wollman said the first choice was the better one, at least when the drugs were generally beneficial to the prisoner. He said courts did not need to consider the ultimate result of medicating the prisoner.
"Eligibility for execution is the only unwanted consequence of the medication," he wrote.
Judge Gerald W. Heaney, in dissent, said there was a third choice. He would have allowed Mr. Singleton to be medicated without fear of execution.
"I believe," he wrote, "that to execute a man who is severely deranged without treatment, and arguably incompetent when treated, is the pinnacle of what Justice Marshall called `the barbarity of exacting mindless vengeance.' " Judge Heaney added that the majority's holding presented doctors with an impossible ethical choice.
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