Thursday, September 13, 2007

Court Dismisses Staley Appeal

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) has dismissed the appeal of death row inmate Steven Staley, who challenged an order last April from his trial judge that he must take anti-psychotic medication. Staley was convicted in the 1989 slaying of Fort Worth restaurant manager Robert Dorsey Reed during a robbery. He suffers from severe paranoid schizophrenia and has been hospitalized up to 19 times while on death row. Staley often has refused to take his medication because he thinks he is being poisoned.

In 2006, Staley's February 23 execution date was set aside after he was deemed incompetent to be executed. District Judge Wayne Salvant later granted the state's motion to forcibly medicate Staley in order to render him competent enough to be executed. According to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, this is believed to be the first time that a Texas judge ordered an incompetent death row inmate to be forcibly medicated. (March 3, 2007)

Staley's attorney appealed the order, arguing that it was unconstitutional for his client to be forced to take drugs that would restore his competency and make him eligible to be put to death. On September 12, the CCA ruled that the trial court's order was not "an appealable order" and that it would not consider overturning Judge Salvant's ruling.

According to Chuck Mallin, the Tarrant County assistant district attorney who heads the office's appellate division, the state will now have to seek a new competency hearing. Staley's attorney plans to appeal in federal court.

Read the article in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:


In its Recommendation and Report on the Death Penalty and Persons with Mental Disabilities, the American Bar Association found that "... treating a condemned prisoner, especially over his or her objection, for the purpose of enabling the state to execute the prisoner strikes many observers as barbaric and also violates fundamental ethical norms of the mental health professions. ... There is only one sensible policy here: a death sentence should be automatically commuted to a lesser punishment (the precise nature of which will be governed by the jurisdiction’s death penalty jurisprudence) after a prisoner has been found incompetent for execution."

Here is the full opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals:

"This is an appeal from the trial court's order compelling appellant to take his anti-psychotic medication. We will dismiss the appeal.

The record before the Court reflects that appellant is an incompetent-to-be-executed, death-row inmate with no scheduled execution date. Appellant's scheduled execution date of February 23, 2006, was set aside by the trial court based on a finding that appellant was incompetent to be executed. (1) The trial court also found that appellant is schizophrenic and that, as his scheduled February 23, 2006, execution date approached, appellant "refused to voluntarily take any psychotropic medications" to treat his schizophrenia. The trial court also found that appellant "appeared to be asymptomatic" during periods that he "was voluntarily taking" his medication. The trial court concluded that appellant, "during periods when he was not taking medication, posed a danger to himself." The trial court also concluded that, because "symptoms of [appellant's schizophrenia] have, in the past, been alleviated by anti-psychotic medication, treatment by these drugs would be in [appellant's] best medical interests." The trial court ordered that appellant voluntarily take his medication and that he be compelled to do so if he refuses. (2)

Appellant appealed from this order. He claims, among other things, that it is unconstitutional for the State to compel him to take anti-psychotic medication to restore his competency so that the State can execute him. (3) The State claims in a motion to dismiss this appeal that the trial court's order is not an "appealable order" under Tex. R. App. Proc. 25.2(a)(2). (4)

We agree. Section 5(a), Tex. Const., provides, in relevant part, that this Court "shall have final appellate jurisdiction coextensive with the limits of the state . . . in all criminal cases of whatever grade, with such exceptions and under such regulations as may be provided in this Constitution or as prescribed by law." Article 44.02, Tex. Code Crim. Proc., provides that "[a] defendant in any criminal action has the right of appeal under the rules hereinafter prescribed." Appellant does not cite, nor have we found, any constitutional or statutory provision or any rule that would authorize this appeal from the trial court's interlocutory order.

The appeal is dismissed."

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