Man serving murder sentence loses appeal over forced medication

A man serving a 70-year murder sentence for killing his former wife failed in a federal appeal to show that his civil rights were violated when prison officials treated him with a powerful antipsychotic drug for several months. The panel also rejected the inmate’s claim that he was wrongly denied appointed counsel.

Jason Perry was convicted of murder for killing his wife, Jessica Tice, in Princeton, Indiana, “during a fit of paranoia in 2013,” Judge Michael Scudder wrote for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals panel that Wednesday denied Perry’s appeal, Jason Perry v. Mary Sims, et al., 19-1497.

Perry pleaded guilty and, given his past mental illness including two suicide attempts, severe depression, paranoid schizophrenia and more, he was assigned to a restricted housing unit at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, south of Terre Haute.

“Indiana prison officials have had their hands full trying to treat and control Perry’s illness,” Scudder wrote. “In 2016 … Perry’s condition worsened. A medical review and administrative hearing culminated in a decision to forcibly administer the antipsychotic medication Haldol, and injections continued for about six months. Perry later sued the medical personnel who decided on this course of treatment, alleging that the forcible medication violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

“Throughout the litigation Perry asked the district court to appoint counsel to assist him. The district court denied those requests, finding that Perry not only understood his case but also quite ably prosecuted it. In the end, the district court entered summary judgment for the defendants. We affirm on all fronts.”

The 7th Circuit first noted that the prison medical review committee determined the involuntary course of treatment was in Perry’s best interest because he had refused food and medication and threatened suicide. When Perry claimed he was allergic, a prison doctor ordered his Haldol dosage be reduced by half. The treatments ceased when Perry was moved to New Castle Correctional Facility.

The appellate panel found that Perry could not show that he was the victim of cruel and unusual punishment, nor was there evidence in the record to support his argument that he was allergic to the medication. Just as it rejected those Eighth Amendment claims, the panel likewise found no due process violations under the 14th Amendment, agreeing with the Southern District of Indiana’s conclusion that the prison medical team had enough evidence to justify involuntary administration of Haldol.

Finally, the panel declined to address his claim that “There is no way … someone who suffers from such longstanding and acute mental illness … could represent himself in prosecuting constitutional claims in federal court.

“At that level of generality, Perry’s position has something to it. But we cannot decide the appeal at that level. To do so would be tantamount to mental illness creating a legal entitlement to the appointment of counsel. The law does not support this categorical proposition. We need to go deeper into the facts and circumstances and ask, as the district court did, whether Perry, notwithstanding his history of mental illness, appeared capable of representing himself,” Scudder wrote, citing to the en banc ruling Pruitt v. Mote, 503 F.3d 647 (7th Cir. 2007).

The decision holds that a district court faced with a motion for appointment of counsel must first consider whether an indigent plaintiff “‘made a reasonable attempt to obtain counsel or [has] been effectively precluded from doing so.’ … And if so, second, the court must consider whether he appears competent to litigate on his own, considering the complexity of the case.

“… All agree that Perry satisfied his threshold burden of trying on his own to recruit counsel. The district court therefore focused on the second question: ‘whether the difficulty of the case — factually and legally — exceeds the particular plaintiff’s capacity as a layperson to coherently present it to the judge or jury himself,’” Scudder wrote.

The panel concluded the district court properly applied the Pruitt test and found no abuse of discretion.

“Our review of the record leaves us with the conviction that there is not ‘a reasonable likelihood that the presence of counsel would have made a difference in the outcome of the litigation,’” the panel concluded.

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