Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley is optimistic that last week’s high court ruling in favor of forcibly medicating some defendants with mental disorders will move a local case forward.
The Oregon Supreme Court has determined that a judge can force someone accused of a crime to take anti-psychotic drugs if these tests are met:
• The medication has to be appropriate and unlikely to have side effects that will undermine the suspect’s ability to assist in his own defense.
• There is no other alternative available to improve a defendant’s mental abilities enough for him or her to stand trial.
• The government demonstrates that the harm to the victim is serious enough to warrant that action.
The above conditions were laid out by a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2003 and will now become the benchmark for Oregon cases.
Nisley believes the 2012 armed robbery case involving defendant Cesar Valencia, 21, of The Dalles meets federal criteria, something he argued in circuit court last fall.
He said three mental health experts have testified that Valencia, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, needs medication in order to understand the nature of the charges against him and the potential consequences of a guilty verdict.
If convicted of first-degree robbery, a Class A felony, he faces a mandatory minimum prison sentence of seven and a half years.
The three victims in the case cannot get closure, said Nisley, until Valencia has been brought to trial.
He said the state’s top court has indicated it will hear the local matter on its own merits at some point in the near future, which is likely to further define the issue.
“I feel pretty confident about the outcome,” said Nisley. “The record we presented, and the ruling and findings the court made (to allow forcible medication) make me feel confident that the order will stand.”
He said Valencia has been charged with a Class A Felony, which is higher than the charge faced by James Michael Frances Lopes, 35, the Portland subject of the case that led to the recent ruling.
Lopes, who had been diagnosed with a delusional disorder, was charged in August 2012 with first-degree attempted sex abuse, a Class C felony.
The justices determined their order could not be applied to his case because he had served 18 months while awaiting a resolution of the medication issue, when his underlying sentence would have only been 12 months.
“I think our case will be assessed on its own facts,” said Nisley. “I feel that our record will satisfy what the supreme court has said is the minimum threshold.”
Prior to the resolution of the Lopes case, patients at the state hospital had the right to refuse medication except under very specific circumstances.
That right could be denied if they posed an immediate danger to themselves or others, or had a grave disability related to their own self-care.
Trial courts will now be able to direct hospitals to deny that right in order for a patient to stand trial.
“Lopes has become the basic foundation for forcible medication cases,” said Nisley.
David Susens of the gorge firm Morris Smith Starns and Sullivan is representing Valencia, who is housed in the Oregon State Hospital awaiting the outcome of his medication challenge.
The defendant has been accused of entering a West Ninth Street dental office on Jan. 18, 2012, with a loaded shotgun and demanding cash from employees.
Law enforcement officials reportedly tracked Valencia by footprints in the snow to his nearby house and a five-hour standoff took place before he was taken into custody. He was already on probation for third-degree robbery at the time he was apprehended.
Susens was unable to be reached for comment about the March 20 supreme court ruling.
The injunction he asked the justices to impose against forcible medication of his client remains in effect until a ruling has taken place on the local matter.
In December, Wasco County Circuit Judge Janet Stauffer upheld Nisley’s request that Valencia be medicated so that a trial could be scheduled later this year.
The district attorney wants Valencia offered 600 milligrams of Clozaril, the drug recommended by consulting physicians because it has the lowest potential for side effects. That medicine has also previously been used in the defendant’s treatment.
If Valencia refuses to take that drug, the district attorney wants him given either Abilify or Geodon, two alternative medications.
He will then undergo an evaluation over a period of months to determine if his mental health has improved.