Connecticut authorities can forcibly administer anti-psychotic medicine on a mentally ill doctor charged in the murder of a Yale University physician so he can be competent to stand trial, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Justices released a 7-0 decision that rejected the appeal of Lishan Wang, whose lawyer argued that medicating Wang against his will would violate his constitutional rights to a fair trial and to mental and physical bodily integrity, as well as conflict with a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling restricting involuntary medication of defendants.
Wang, a Chinese citizen from Beijing, is charged with murder in the 2010 fatal shooting of Dr. Vajinder Toor outside Toor’s home in Branford. He is also charged with attempted murder on allegations he shot at Toor’s pregnant wife, who wasn’t injured. Wang has pleaded not guilty, and he has insisted he is competent and doesn’t need medication.
Authorities say the shooting appeared to stem from a 2008 workplace dispute Wang had with Toor and other doctors when they worked together at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in New York City. Wang was fired from the medical center that year after a series of confrontations with Toor and other colleagues.
Wang represented himself in the case until a judge ruled him incompetent last year and assigned a public defender. In November, New Haven Superior Court Judge Thomas O’Keefe Jr. ruled that state officials could forcibly medicate Wang to make him competent to stand trial and that doing so would not violate Wang’s constitutional rights or the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. O’Keefe’s decision was put on hold pending the Supreme Court appeal.
A main issue in the appeal was whether prosecutors showed that it was “substantially likely” that forcing medication on Wang would restore him to competency. The “substantially likely” standard was set — but not specifically defined — in 2003 by the U.S. Supreme Court, which said the government can force medication on mentally ill criminal defendants only in the rarest of circumstances and only if certain conditions are met.
The Connecticut Supreme Court said state prosecutors met those conditions and concluded that it was substantially likely that Wang would be restored to competency with medication. State justices relied on the testimony of a state psychiatrist, who said the chances of success in restoring Wang to competency with recommended medications was in a percentage range from the mid-50s to 70.
Wang’s public defender on the appeal, Mark Rademacher, argued that a projected success rate of mid-50s to 70 percent did not make it “substantially likely” that Wang would be restored to competency. The Supreme Court disagreed and defined “substantially likely” as “more likely than not, or a greater than 50 percent probability.”
“They just set the bar too low before they can violently restrain a patient, knock him out with a sedative and inject him with medication,” Rademacher said Tuesday. “It’s an extremely serious thing to do and shouldn’t be taken lightly.”
Rademacher said he will be deciding whether to appeal the state Supreme Court ruling to a federal court, possibly the U.S. Supreme Court.
Prosecutor Nancy Walker has said the ruling by O’Keefe in November did not violate Wang’s rights or the U.S. Supreme Court restrictions. She said his case is based on the sound medical advice of experts and is one of the rare instances where forced medication is allowed.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut has been closely watching Wang’s case.
“The court’s reasoning concludes that very few criminal defendants will be plausibly eligible for forcible medication in the future,” said Dan Barrett, legal director of the state ACLU chapter. “The ACLU of Connecticut will be watching to ensure that prosecutors do not attempt to expand that number.”