Religious act may protect Jehovah's Witness who refused psychiatric meds before trial, 5th Circuit says
A federal judge should consider the religious claims of a defendant who has refused to take psychiatric medications to become competent for trial on a charge of threatening a New Orleans judge, a federal appeals court has ruled. Image from Shutterstock.
A federal judge should consider the religious claims of a defendant who has refused to take psychiatric medications to become competent for trial on a charge of threatening a New Orleans judge, a federal appeals court has ruled.
Chief U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown of the Eastern District of Louisiana had ordered defendant Bryant Lamont Harris to be involuntarily medicated after he refused treatment with psychotropic medication because of his religious beliefs.
Harris is a Jehovah’s Witness, NOLA.com reports.
In an Aug. 11 opinion, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New Orleans said Brown should evaluate Harris’ claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Harris was charged with threatening U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan of the Eastern District of Louisiana. He allegedly called her chambers, asserted that he was an Army veteran with expert marksmanship training, and asked how many security personnel were assigned to her.
When asked why he wanted security information, Harris allegedly replied, “I need to know how many people I need to take out to get to the judge.”
Brown had found that the government has a compelling interest in prosecuting Morgan that is not outweighed by his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion. Brown was correct in her analysis, the 5th Circuit said, but she had to consider whether the RFRA or other statutory religious protection applies.
The 5th Circuit ruled in a per curiam opinion by Judges Jennifer Elrod, James C. Ho and Andrew Oldham.
The case is United States v. Harris.