Vanderbilt Law Review


Dora W. Klein

First Page



The right of an accused in a criminal trial to due process is, in essence, the right to a fair opportunity to defend against the State's accusations. Those who have experienced the full thrust of the power of government when leveled against them know that the only protection the citizen has is in the requirement for a fair trial. [I]nvoluntary medication with antipsychotic drugs poses a serious threat to a defendant's right to a fair trial. On July 24, 1998, Russell Weston shot and killed two police officers, and wounded a third, near a security checkpoint in the United States Capitol building. Reportedly, Weston's goal was to gain access to the "override console" of the "ruby satellite system," a time machine located in the "great safe of the U.S. Senate," so that he could prevent "cannibals" from taking over and spreading "black heva," a deadly plague. A federal prison psychiatrist diagnosed Weston as suffering from schizophrenia, and the D.C. District Court found him incompetent to stand trial. A person is competent to stand trial so long as he has "sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding" and "a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him." This competency requirement is based on the recognition that in an adversary system of justice, it is unfair to convict someone who is unable to defend himself. Although treatment with psychotropic medications? can sometimes render an in- competent detainee competent,' Weston refused to take these medications voluntarily.

For more than three years, the federal courts in the District of Columbia struggled with the question of whether Weston could be compelled to take psychotropic medications involuntarily.