A Pierce County judge was wrong to force an inmate to take psychiatric medication without first letting the man present testimony from a medical expert, an appeals court said Tuesday.
Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin’s order to involuntarily medicate 44-year-old Christopher Lyons was overturned by Division II of the state Court of Appeals, which decided Lyons had a due process right to such testimony.
Lyons ended up at Western State Hospital, the state inpatient psychiatric facility in Lakewood, after prosecutors charged him with two counts of second-degree assault in June 2014.
He allegedly beat a man with a baseball bat near South Prairie, and attacked the man’s son when he tried to intervene. Lyons believed the man had stolen marijuana from him and owed him $5,300 from an online game, prosecutors said.
The court sent Lyons to Western State to get him competent to stand trial after a psychological evaluation found he had paranoid delusions that would keep him from helping his attorney.
The treatment didn’t go so well, according to court records.
A doctor at the hospital wrote the attorneys and the court in January 2015.
“Given the nature of the defendant’s mental disorder,” the doctor stated, “a medically necessary component of psychiatric treatment for this individual would entail the use of pdsychotropic medications.”
The letter said Lyons was unwilling to take such medicine, and the doctor asked that involuntary medication be considered.
Lyons requested time to present an expert who “would testify to the resistance of delusional disorder to treatment with medication and that restoration of competency through medication often took a minimum of three to four months,” appellate Judge Lisa Sutton wrote for the unanimous court.
Nevin said no, and in February 2015 ordered that hospital staff members could give Lyons nine medicines against his will, if needed.
Lyons was found still incompetent to stand trial in March 2015, and the assault charges were dropped. After that, he was to be evaluated for possible civil commitment to Western State.
He appealed the involuntary medication.
Not every defendant has a right to expert testimony before being involuntarily medicated, the appellate court noted in its decision; the testimony must be relevant, and the expert has to be qualified.
In Lyons case, the higher court said, both were true.
“Lyons represented to the trial court on three separate occasions that he had a qualified medical expert who was able to testify on his behalf,” Sutton wrote. “And Lyons informed the trial court of the specific aspects of the State’s case that his expert would be able to rebut.”