Academic journal article Stanford Law Review

Forcible Medication of Mentally Ill Criminal Defendants: The Case of Russell Eugene Weston, Jr. (Notes)

Academic journal article Stanford Law Review

Forcible Medication of Mentally Ill Criminal Defendants: The Case of Russell Eugene Weston, Jr. (Notes)

Article excerpt


In his prison cell in North Carolina, he picks at sores and insists that the ripening of corn causes time to reverse. (1) Once convinced that he was the favorite son of President John F. Kennedy and the target of a communist murder plot, (2) Russell Eugene Weston, Jr. lives physically in a federal correctional institution in Burner, North Carolina. (3) Mentally, he lives in world of his own creation.

In 1996, Weston, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia years earlier, (4) arrived at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters just outside of Washington, D.C. and introduced himself as an operative named "the Moon." (5) In suit-and-tie, he calmly explained the Ruby Surveillance System that he had created while working at NASA. (6) Constructed of a ruby, a watch, and a small wheel, this covert satellite system could reverse the march of time. (7) Fifty minutes later, after explaining his cloning at birth, but never threatening the life of the President, Weston was sent on his way. (8)

Two years later, on July 24, 1998, Weston returned to the national capital area--this time armed and ready to stop the work of the Ruby Surveillance System. (9) Cannibals had overused the system, he believed, and had spawned the development and spread of "Black Heva," a plague-like disease that could kill over one-third of America's population, (10) Weston was determined to reach the override switch located in the "great safe of the U.S. Senate" and halt the spread of "Black Heva." (11)

Running through the security magnetometers positioned in the entrance of the U.S. Capitol Building, Weston opened fire with a .38-caliber revolver, fatally shooting Capitol Hill Police Officers Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson. (12) Injured in the ensuing exchange of gun fire, Weston was taken into custody at the scene and charged with two counts of capital murder, attempted murder, and firearms offenses. (13)

With two federal law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, harsh and swirl punishment was sure to follow. But today, three years after the murders, Weston has not yet been tried for his alleged crimes. Instead, government prosecutors, Weston's lawyers, and six federal judges have been grappling with the critical, but largely unanswered question on which Weston's fate hinged: May the government, and, if so, under what circumstances, constitutionally administer psychotropic medication to a mentally ill criminal defendant against his will for the purpose of rendering him competent for trial?

Once incarcerated immediately after his deadly rampage, Weston refused to take antipsychotic medication to tame the symptoms of his schizophrenia, (14) and in April 1999, D.C. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan declared Weston incompetent for trial. (15) In response, the government sought court permission to forcibly medicate Weston in the hope that drug treatment would restore his competence to stand trial. Fearing that a trial would lead to an inevitable death sentence, Weston's attorneys fought prosecutors every step of the way.

Certainly Weston is not the first defendant to enter the legal labyrinth of forcible administration of psychotropic medicine. (16) But with two law enforcement officers dead, the security of the U.S. Congress breached, the death penalty on the table, and a severely delusional defendant willing to fight a drawn-out legal battle, the dramatic nature of this case has turned Russell Weston into the "poster boy" (17) for the issue of forcible medication of mentally incompetent criminal defendants.

This Note examines Weston's legal journey and the complex legal questions raised by the forcible medication of incompetent criminal defendants. Part I outlines current Supreme Court doctrine on this issue. Part II explores the application of this doctrine to Weston's case. Part III analyzes the most recent, and final, opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and concludes that this decision established new law that likely will give government prosecutors considerable latitude to forcibly medicate non-dangerous, mentally ill criminal defendants in order to bring them to trial. …

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