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United States v. Banks

United States District Court, Western District of Virginia, Abingdon Division

April 29, 2015


Zachary T. Lee, Assistant United States Attorney, Abingdon, Virginia, for United States

Brian J. Beck, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Abingdon, Virginia, for Defendant.


James P. Jones United States District Judge

Jeffrey Leon Banks, currently serving a state prison sentence for second-degree murder, has been indicted in this court on charges of threatening to kill the President of the United States. These threats were allegedly communicated in letters sent by the defendant from prison. After a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, the defendant was found not competent to stand trial. The government subsequently moved to permit the Bureau of Prisons to involuntarily medicate the defendant in order to restore him to competency. After a hearing, the magistrate judge found that involuntary medication of the defendant would be inappropriate, and recommended denying the government’s motions. Now before me are the government’s objections to the magistrate judge’s Report and Recommendations.

For the reasons that follow, I will accept the magistrate judge’s recommendation, and deny the government’s motion to involuntarily medicate the defendant.


The facts of this case are set forth in detail in the magistrate judge’s Report and Recommendation. A brief summary is as follows. On November 18, 2013, the defendant was indicted in this court on five counts of threatening to kill or harm the President of the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 871, and five counts of mailing a threat to injure another, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876(c). At the time of the defendant’s alleged crimes, he was an inmate at Virginia’s Keen Mountain Correctional Center, serving a 15-year sentence for the second-degree murder of his wife. Based on the defendant’s behavior at his initial appearance, in which he announced his intent to represent himself on the charges, and the defendant’s mental health records, which revealed the defendant’s extensive history of psychiatric treatment, the court granted the government’s motion and committed the defendant to the Bureau of Prisons for the purpose of a competency evaluation. See 18 U.S.C. § 4241(b). The court also directed that the evaluators report on the defendant’s sanity at the time of his alleged offenses. See 18 U.S.C. § 4242(a).

In a resulting written report, the Bureau of Prisons evaluator at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York (Kari M. Schlessinger, Ph.D., a forensic psychologist) found that the defendant suffered from “Other Specified Schizophrenic Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorder (delusions with disorganized thought content).”[1] (Competency to Stand Trial Evaluation 11, Feb. 27, 2014, ECF No. 28.) The evaluator concluded that the defendant was not competent to stand trial, since his delusional thoughts and disorganized thought process would unduly interfere with his ability to assist in his own defense. (Id. at 15.) Further, in a separate portion of the report, the evaluator opined that the defendant was not sane at the time of his alleged offenses, because his mental illness impaired the ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct. (Clinical Responsibility Evaluation 17, Feb. 27, 2014, ECF No. 28.). Finally, the evaluator concluded that the defendant’s symptoms were sufficiently chronic that it was unlikely that his condition would improve without “appropriate interventions and a period of stabilization.” (Id. at 12.)

Based on this report, and following a hearing on April 14, 2014, the magistrate judge found the defendant not competent to stand trial, and ordered him committed for the purpose of determining whether there is a substantial probability that in the foreseeable future the defendant will attain competency. See 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)(1).

Following another examination, this time at the Federal Medical Center at Butner, North Carolina, by Bryon Herbel, M.D., a psychiatrist, and Adeirdre Stribling Riley, Ph.D., a psychologist, it was reported that the defendant was still incompetent to understand the proceedings against him or assist in his defense. (Forensic Evaluation 14, Nov. 10, 2014, ECF No. 35.) The principal mental diagnosis was schizophrenia. (Id. at 13.)

The defendant has denied having any mental health issues on multiple occasions, and has refused to take antipsychotic medication. Therefore, the evaluators examined the possibility of involuntarily medicating him. The report explained that the majority of incompetent defendants suffering from schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders who refuse medication, like the defendant, can be restored to competency with involuntary treatment. (Id. at 18.) The report stated that there is no empirical evidence that these disorders respond better to psychotherapy alone, and so alternative, less-intrusive treatments would be unlikely to restore the defendant’s competency. Further, the evaluators noted that the defendant had a history of improvement in his mental condition with the use of antipsychotic medication, and that there was a substantial probability that the use of such medication would restore his competency to stand trial. (Id. at 25.) Despite the general risk of side effects of antipsychotic medications, such as sedation, neuromuscular effects, and metabolic effects, the report noted that the defendant had denied experiencing any side effects from these medications in the past and was therefore substantially unlikely to experience these side effects. Based on these findings, the evaluators recommended involuntary treatment of the defendant with oral antipsychotic medication, or with long-acting injections of the medication should the defendant refuse to take it orally.

Based on this report, the government moved the court for permission to involuntarily medicate the defendant. The magistrate judge held an evidentiary hearing on the motion on January 15, 2015. The court received into evidence the evaluators’ report, along with other exhibits, including records of the defendant’s state court convictions, copies of the letters alleged to be the basis of the current federal charges, and copies of the defendant’s state mental health records. Notably, the mental health records indicated that the defendant had been restored to competency to stand trial with antipsychotic medications twice in the past, and that the defendant denied experiencing any neuromuscular side effects, although at times he complained of vomiting and increased paranoia.

The letters attributed to the defendant, which are addressed to the justices of the Supreme Court, provide further insight into the defendant’s condition at the time of his alleged offenses. The letters reveal the defendant’s belief in an elaborate conspiracy involving the FBI, celebrities Beyoncé Knowles and Shawn Carter (known as Jay Z), drug dealers, and several family members and high school classmates. The apparent object of this conspiracy was the rape of the defendant’s daughters and subsequent cover-up. The letters declared the defendant’s intent to kill everyone involved in the conspiracy, as well as President Obama. The evaluators from the Bureau of Prisons opined that the defendant was not sane at the time he allegedly penned these letters.

On March 3, 2015, the magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation, recommending that the government’s motion for involuntary medication be denied. The magistrate judge examined the factors set forth in Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), which held that an incompetent defendant may only be involuntarily medicated to restore competency for trial in rare circumstances. Id. at 180. The magistrate judge found that, although the government had met three of the four prongs of the Sell test by clear and convincing evidence, special circumstances lessened the government’s interest in prosecution to the point that they did not outweigh the defendant’s constitutionally protected ...

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