Perry v. Louisiana

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Perry v. Louisiana
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued October 2, 1990
Decided November 13, 1990
Full case name Michael Owen Perry v. State of Louisiana
Citations 498 U.S. 38 (more)
Prior history Certiorari to the 19th Judicial District Court of Louisiana
Subsequent history Remanded to the 19th Judicial District Court of Louisiana
The forcible medication of individuals to render them competent to be executed is impermissible.
Court membership
Case opinions
Per curiam.
Souter took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Perry v. Louisiana, 498 U.S. 38 (1990), was a United States Supreme Court case over the legality of the forcibly medicating a death row inmate with a mental disorder in order to render him competent to be executed.[1]


Michael Owen Perry murdered five people, including his parents and infant nephew, at and around his parent's home in Louisiana. Following the murders, he fled the state, leaving behind a list of five other intended targets, including Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and musician Olivia Newton-John. He was ultimately arrested at a hotel in Washington D.C., apparently on his way to kill O'Connor.[2]

A jury convicted him of the five murders and sentenced him to the death penalty. After his sentencing the trial court found that his competence to be executed depended on his taking psychiatric medication and ordered that he be forcibly medicated to be sure he remained competent. Ford v. Wainwright (1986) had already established that an insane inmate cannot be executed.[1]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

In a per curiam decision, the Court vacated the lower court's ruling without issuing an opinion. The case was remanded to the Louisiana Supreme Court for further deliberation in view of Washington v. Harper (1990), also a case involving involuntary medication, which had been decided after the District Court's ruling.[3]


Upon remand, the lower court ruled against the forcible medication of individuals in order to maintain their competency for execution. This decision was based on the distinction that, unlike the holding in Harper v. Washington concerning involuntary medication for treatment issues, forcing medication for the purposes of execution was not medical treatment (being "antithetical to the basic principles of the healing arts") but punishment.[1]

In addition, the lower court found two state laws on which to base its holding. First it found that forcibly medicating a person for the purposes of execution was cruel and unusual punishment under Louisiana state law because "it fails to measurably contribute to the social goals of capital punishment" by adding to the individual's punishment "beyond that required for the mere extinguishment of life," and could be "administered erroneously, arbitrarily or capriciously".[1] It also held that forcible medication in this situation violated the right to privacy guaranteed by the Louisiana State Constitution because the inhumanity of the situation rendered the state's interest in executing a person under these conditions less compelling.[1]


Per Ford v. Wainwright, a psychotic inmate who does not have an understanding of what is about to occur is not competent to be executed and therefore cannot be executed. The complex issues of forcibly medicating an individual to make him competent for execution posed in Perry v. Louisiana illustrates the conflict between the judicial interests in imposing capital punishment for certain murderers and the medical physician's Hippocratic Oath, "first do no harm." Medical ethics are primarily guided by "first do no harm". If other states follow Louisiana's example and specify that the judiciary must provide legal support for this medical ethical imperative, the practice of forcibly medicating death row inmate would cease, and the conflict between these issues would disappear.[4][5] However, currently these conflicting issues continue to exist.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Melton, Gary (1997). Psychological Evaluations for the Courts: A Handbook for Mental Health Professionals and Lawyers (2nd ed.). New York: The Guilford Press. pp. 184–185. ISBN 1-57230-236-4. 
  2. ^ de Becker, Gavin. The Gift of Fear. pp. 262–66. 
  3. ^ "Perry v. Louisiana Certiorari to the 19th Judicial District Court of Louisiana". Retrieved 2007-12-19. 
  4. ^ "Medical Ethics and Physician Involvement". Human Rights Watch. 1994. Retrieved 2007-12-20. 
  5. ^ "Perry v. Louisiana: medical ethics on death row—is judicial intervention warranted?". PubMed. Winter 1991. Retrieved 2007-12-20. 
  6. ^ William J. Rold, JD, CCHP-A (Winter 2003). "Legal Affairs - Special Needs and Mental Health Care: A Closer Look". National Commission on Correctional Care. Retrieved 2007-12-20. 

External links[edit]