skip navigation
search

Riggins v. Nevada (90-8466), 504 U.S. 127 (1992).
Opinion
[ O'Connor ]
Concurrence
[ Kennedy ]
Syllabus
Dissent
[ Thomas ]
HTML version
WordPerfect version
HTML version
WordPerfect version
HTML version
WordPerfect version
HTML version
WordPerfect version

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

RIGGINS v. NEVADA

certiorari to the supreme court of nevada

No. 90-8466. Argued January 15, 1992 -- Decided May 18, 1992

When petitioner Riggins, while awaiting a Nevada trial on murder and robbery charges, complained of hearing voices and having sleep problems, a psychiatrist prescribed the antipsychotic drug Mellaril. After he was found competent to stand trial, Riggins made a motion to suspend the Mellaril's administration until after his trial, arguing that its use infringed upon his freedom, that its effect on his demeanor and mental state during trial would deny him due process, and that he had the right to show jurors his true mental state when he offered an insanity defense. After hearing the testimony of doctors who had examined Riggins, the trial court denied the motion with a one page order giving no indication of its rationale. At Riggins' trial, he presented his insanity defense and testified, was convicted, and was sentenced to death. In affirming, the State Supreme Court held, inter alia, that expert testimony presented at trial was sufficient to inform the jury of the Mellaril's effect on Riggins' demeanor and testimony.

Held: The forced administration of antipsychotic medication during Riggins' trial violated rights guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 5-10.

(a) The record narrowly defines the issues in this case. Administration of Mellaril was involuntary once Riggins' motion to terminate its use was denied, but its administration was medically appropriate. In addition, Riggins' Eighth Amendment argument that the drug's administration denied him the opportunity to show jurors his true mental condition at the sentencing hearing was not raised below or in the petition for certiorari and, thus, will not be considered by this Court. P. 5.

(b) A pretrial detainee has an interest in avoiding involuntary administration of antipsychotic drugs that is protected under the DueProcess Clause. Cf. Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210; Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 545. Once Riggins moved to terminate his treatment, the State became obligated to establish both the need for Mellaril and its medical appropriateness. Cf. Harper, supra, at 227. Due process certainly would have been satisfied had the State shown that the treatment was medically appropriate and, considering less intrusive alternatives, essential for Riggins' own safety or the safety of others. The State also might have been able to justify the treatment, if medically appropriate, by showing that an adjudication of guilt or innocence could not be obtained by using less intrusive means. However, the trial court allowed the drug's administration to continue without making any determination of the need for this course or any findings about reasonable alternatives, and it failed to acknowledge Riggins' liberty interest in freedom from antipsychotic drugs. Pp. 5-9.

(c) There is a strong possibility that the trial court's error impaired Riggins' constitutionally protected trial rights. Efforts to prove or disprove actual prejudice from the record before this Court would be futile, and guesses as to the trial's outcome had Riggins' motion been granted would be speculative. While the precise consequences of forcing Mellaril upon him cannot be shown from a trial transcript, the testimony of doctors who examined Riggins establishes the strong possibility that his defense was impaired. Mellaril's side effects may have impacted not only his outward appearance, but also his testimony's content, his ability to follow the proceedings, or the substance of his communication with counsel. Thus, even if the expert testimony presented at trial allowed jurors to assess Riggins' demeanor fairly, an unacceptable risk remained that forced medication compromised his trial rights. Pp. 9-10.

(d) While trial prejudice can sometimes be justified by an essential state interest, the record here contains no finding to support a conclusion that administration of antipsychotic medication was necessary to accomplish an essential state policy. P. 10.

107 Nev. ___, 808 P. 2d 535, reversed and remanded.

O'Connor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and White, Blackmun, Stevens, and Souter, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Scalia, J., joined except as to Part II-A.