Perry v. Louisiana

Case Summary for my Law & Bioethics graduate school course

by Don Stacy

 

Michael Owen Perry, Appellant, v. State of Louisiana, Appellee, U.S. Supreme Court, 498 U.S. 38 (1990).

 

COURT

Supreme Court of the United States

 

PARTIES

Plaintiff/Appellant: Michael Owen Perry

Defendant/Appellee: State of Louisiana

 

FACTS

Michael Owen Perry murdered five people (parents, infant nephew, and two cousins) on July 17, 1983.   After the murders, he fled to Washington D.C., apparently intending to murder several other persons. He was apprehended on July 31, 1983.

 

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Due to Mr. Perry’s history of mental illness, a sanity commission hearing was held on September 26, 1983. This commission recommended further psychiatric evaluation at the Feliciana Forensic Facility. A second sanity commission hearing was held on March 01, 1984. This commission asserted that Mr. Perry was mentally competent and capable of assisting counsel in his defense (the 6th Amendment requirement). Mr. Perry pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity but, in October 1984, he was convicted of five counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

Mr. Perry arrived at the Louisiana State Penitentiary on December 20, 1985, where he was diagnosed, by staff psychiatrists, with schizophrenia that could only be controlled via medication.

In 1987, the Louisiana Supreme Court, in answer to a direct appeal, recommended a mental competency evaluation for Mr. Perry. Mental health experts examined the inmate between January 1988 and April 1988 and presented their findings to the trial court on April 20, 1988. The trial court decided to rule on Mr. Perry’s competence in August 1988. Between April 1988 and August 1988, the trial court received ex parte reports regarding the inmate’s condition. At the competency hearing on August 26, 1988, the trial court ordered further psychiatric evaluation of Mr. Perry and continued forcible medication and scheduled a final ruling on his competence for September 30, 1988. On September 30, 1988 the trial court decreed that Mr. Perry was competent for execution but only when maintained on appropriate psychotropic medication so, therefore, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections was ordered to continue said medication forcibly if needed.

The Louisiana Supreme Court then denied writs of certiorari and an appeal from Mr. Perry.

The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

 

PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT’S CONTENTIONS

Mr. Perry asserted that it was impermissible to forcibly medicate individuals to render them competent to be executed.

 

DEFENDANT/APPELLEE’S CONTENTIONS

The State of Louisiana asserted that it was permissible to forcibly medicate individuals to render them competent to be executed.

 

ISSUES

  • Is it permissible to forcibly medicate an individual to render the individual competent to be executed?
  • If not, are there any scenarios in which it is permissible to forcibly medicate an individual and, if so, what are these scenarios?
  • Can an insane inmate be executed?
  • Is forcibly medicating a person for the purposes of execution cruel and unusual punishment?
  • Is forcibly medicating a person for the purposes of execution a violation of the right to privacy?

 

HOLDINGS

  • It is not permissible to forcibly medicate a person to render the person competent to be executed.
  • It is permissible to forcibly medicate an individual for medical interest-related purposes only.
  • An insane person cannot be executed.
  • Forcibly medicating a person for the purposes of execution is cruel and unusual punishment.
  • Forcibly medicating a person for the purposes of execution violates the right to privacy.

 

RULES

see HOLDINGS

 

RESULT

The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s ruling without issuing an opinion. Further, SCOTUS remanded the case to the Supreme Court of Louisiana for further deliberation in light of the ruling in Harper v. Washington (1990). The Supreme Court of Louisiana ultimately ruled against the forcible medication of individuals in order to maintain their competency for execution because said forcible medication was cruel and unusual punishment and violated the inmate’s right to privacy.

 

IMPLICATIONS/ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS

The ultimate ruling in this case set the precedent that States cannot forcibly medicate a person if said medication is intended exclusively to render the person mentally competent for execution; however, States retain full legal authority to forcibly medicate a person to render the person mentally competent for execution if the said medication is also indicated for medical reasons.