News of the Day ... in Perspective5/31/2004
Court holds hearing on Dr. Sell's motion to be tried on pending charges.
Charles Thomas Sell, D.D.S, has been held in prison for nearly 7 years without trial. When the magistrate judge ordered him to be forcibly drugged with antipsychotic medication against his will, supposedly to render him competent to stand trial, he appealed to the district judge. When he lost that, he appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, and AAPS filed an amicus brief in his favor. When he lost 2-1 there, he sought rehearing en banc, again with the assistance of an AAPS amicus brief. He lost 5-4 on his petition, and then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. AAPS again filed a brief in favor of the Court hearing the case. The U.S. Supreme Court finally held in his favor and stopped the forced drugging.
But a hearing was held in St. Louis on May 21st to reconsider his competence to stand trial. Dr. Sell has always insisted that he is competent for trial, and has protested being held for nearly 7 years without one. But the hearing was yet another outrageous development in one of the most unjust cases of our time, writes AAPS General Counsel Andrew Schlafly.
The night before, the prison guards refused to turn off the lights in Dr. Sell's cell so that he could sleep, supposedly as a "suicide watch." That interfered with his rest, of course, but it didn't matter.
Earlier, the government psychologist who stated that he thought Dr. Sell was sane now and competent for trial sought another examination of him. However, Dr. Sell felt it was a ruse to enable the psychologist to change his view and declare him incompetent again, so Dr. Sell thought he was better off refusing to submit to the examination. At least then the prison psychologist would have no basis for changing his diagnosis.
At the hearing on Friday, to everyone's surprise except Dr. Sell's, the prison psychologist said he had indeed changed his mind (again) and felt Dr. Sell was incompetent. His basis? Nothing except Dr. Sell's refusal to submit to an examination by him!
Time for cross-examination of the psychologist's unjustified reversal. But Dr. Sell's attorneys declined to cross-examine him! (Dr. Sell's attorneys want him held incompetent also.)
Finally, Dr. Sell took the witness stand. He flew circles around everyone, masterfully describing every fact connected with his life and then every detail about his case and the charges against him. Phyllis Schlafly, who attended, described the testimony as "brilliant" to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter.
Time for the government cross-examination of Dr. Sell. The prosecutor tried again and again to trip Dr. Sell up, in complete futility. The prosecutor couldn't lay a glove on him.
The judge then declined to rule. Faced with psychologists on both sides declaring Dr. Sell incompetent, but Dr. Sell himself giving astonishingly lucid testimony, it's unclear what will happen. But the odds are that Dr. Sell will be sent back to jail for another year while the judge again finds him incompetent.
If this were a novel, it would be criticized as too far-fetched to be taken seriously, Mr. Schlafly stated.
Forcible medication for courtroom competence: the case of Charles Sell by George Annas, New England Journal of Medicine 2004;350:2297, May 27, 2004. Subscription required for full text access.