- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

The Supreme Court considered yesterday how far the government can go to make a delusional dentist well enough to stand trial for health-fraud charges.
Dr. Charles Sell, 53, sees imaginary leopards, believes the FBI is trying to kill him and wants to go into combat. He is locked up in a psychiatric unit while the Supreme Court decides whether he can be forced to take anti-psychotic drugs.
Justices seemed conflicted about the problem before them: how to balance the government's interest in punishing nonviolent crime with a person's constitutional right to control his or her body?
Despite his delusions, Mr. Sell can behave normally and knows that he does not want to be put on powerful drugs, attorney Barry Short told justices.
"Then he should be able to stand trial," Justice Antonin Scalia interrupted.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked whether prosecutors should be allowed to medicate defendants and witnesses in the name of justice.
"Could you send your guy out there with a needle the day before the trial … so that he behaves the way the government wants him to at trial?" Mr. Kennedy asked the government attorney.
Later, Mr. Kennedy told him, "I do not understand your basic authority to do this at all."
The justices were hearing arguments in a follow-up to a 1992 court ruling that defendants can be forced to take drugs only if it is medically appropriate.
Mr. Sell's case raises questions that could apply more broadly to, for example, government programs requiring vaccinations against anthrax or school mandates that children with hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder take drugs to remain in class.
No one disputes that Mr. Sell is mentally ill and too unstable to stand trial. There is disagreement about whether medicines will help him and whether he is dangerous.
The Bush administration argues that hundreds of federal defendants are medicated each year, and that most become competent to stand trial. Most take the drugs willingly. In a recent 12-month period, 59 persons were medicated against their wishes and about three-fourths were restored to competency, the administration told the court.
Mr. Sell and his wife are accused of submitting bogus claims to Medicaid and private insurance companies for dental services. Mr. Sell was later charged with conspiring and attempting to kill a witness, a former worker in his office, and the FBI agent who arrested him.
He has spent more than four years in a prison hospital as his lawyers fight about his drugging, more jail time than he would receive if convicted of the fraud charges. He has been diagnosed with a delusional disorder.
In other actions yesterday:
The court said it would examine whether police officers are personally liable when they make mistakes on search warrants. Law officers are typically immune from lawsuits about their conduct on duty, but the high court has allowed exceptions when the officer violated someone's constitutional rights. The question this time, in a case involving a 1997 ranch in rural Montana, is whether a mistake on the search warrant justifies a later illegal-search lawsuit by the warrant's targets.
The justices asked for the Bush administration's views in a case that challenges cities' responsibilities to make sidewalks accessible to the disabled. The high court is evaluating whether to hear an appeal from the city of Sacramento, Calif., which is facing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of people who are blind, use wheelchairs or have other disabilities.

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