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Robbery case hinges on meds

DA wants to compel medication

— Wasco County Circuit Judge Janet Stauffer will decide by Dec. 18 whether an accused robbery suspect should be forcibly medicated for schizophrenia so he can aid in his own defense.

District Attorney Eric Nisley has asked that Cesar Valencia, 21, of The Dalles be medicated with one of three drug choices so he can stand trial for an armed robbery that occurred Jan. 18, 2012.

Valencia was arrested just outside his residence at 405 W. Ninth St. in The Dalles after a five-hour standoff with SWAT and SERT teams that drew a large crowd of onlookers. According to reports, he was tracked to his residence by footprints in the snow from the dental office of Dr. Mark N. Keilman, where he allegedly pointed a gun at employees and demanded cash.

His arrest took place after police obtained a search warrant and employed tear gas inside the house. No shots were fired and no one was injured.

Sandy Vanguilder, the office receptionist at the clinic, reported to authorities that she and her coworkers were closing up early for the day because of the cold winter weather. There were no patients in the building and she was standing behind the desk when she allegedly noticed Valencia, and asked if she could help him.

That’s when he allegedly pulled out a gun and pointed it at all three people in the reception area, demanding any cash they had on hand. Vanguilder handed over an undisclosed amount of money and the robber then fled the scene.

She said from what she saw, Valencia, who was unemployed, seemed like he was “cold and hungry and needed a quick and easy place to get some money so he could run home afterward.”

If convicted of first degree robbery, a Class A felony, Valencia faces a minimum sentence of seven and a half years. He was on probation for a third-degree robbery conviction at the time of his 2012 arrest.

Drs. Cher Yao Chen and Andrew Nanton, both psychiatrists, testified at a Nov. 20 hearing that Valencia was unable to assist in his own defense without medication. They said he had been on an antipsychotic drug that balanced his thinking at one time but then had stopped taking it. They said he had not responded well to other types of treatment.

Although Valencia is currently lodged at the regional jail pending Stauffer’s decision, he has spent the majority of the time since his arrest at the Oregon State Hospital, where Chen, Nanton and other mental health experts have evaluated his cognitive thinking and reasoning abilities.

Nisley told Stauffer in a closing argument Nov. 21 that the legal standard applicable to the case was “very limited” but it was important to proceed with prosecution on behalf of three victims. He said Valencia could first be offered medication and told he had been ordered by a judge to take it. If the defendant failed to take the drugs voluntarily, they could then be given to him forcibly.

“This [medicine] will allow the defendant to make reasonable, reality-based decisions,” said Nisley. “There is no other method available to restore competency to this situation.”

He said Chen and Nanton believed that medication given to Valencia consistently over a period of several months could help him provide assistance to defense attorney Robb Raschio, who works out of Morris Smith Starnes Raschio and Sullivan, a gorge firm.

“If the medicine doesn’t give the response we want in six months to a year then the court can do something else,” said Nisley. “This is a balancing act between a personal liberty interest and the need of the state.”

Raschio told Stauffer that Valencia had suffered from harmful side effects during a period of prior medication. He said some of the health problems caused by medication could be life-threatening, such as lowering his client’s white blood cell count, which made it more difficult for him to fight off an illness or disease.

He said drugging Valencia without consent violated his due process rights under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. If he suffered any type of impairment from the medication, whether physical or mental, Raschio said the trial would not be fair.

“If he can’t aid and assist in his own defense, you can’t force any kind of an order against him,” he said.

He said there was no clear case law in Oregon about the matter but the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that side effects from drugs that altered the defendant’s demeanor, such as involuntarily twitching of facial muscles, could prejudice the jury. Furthermore, the medication could interfere with communication between the accused and his attorney, which would make defense much more difficult.

“A judge won’t necessarily be able to discuss that happening as a result of medicine, and that’s a big deal from the defense perspective,” said Raschio, reiterating that, under the rule of law, a suspect had the right to a fair trial.

Nisley said the existing standard of care was to use drugs to regulate schizophrenia, which causes a break down in thought processes and impaired emotional responses.

“I think the record is clear that these meds do work and they are designed to work on a person like Mr. Valencia,” he said.

After hearing arguments on both sides of the issue, Stauffer told Nisley and Raschio that she would further study the law and render a decision by the middle of December.

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