Law School Case Brief
State v. Perry - 610 So. 2d 746 (La. 1992)
Where a decision as fundamental as those included within the right of personal privacy is involved, state action imposing a burden on it may be justified only by a compelling state interest, and the state action must be narrowly confined so as to further only that compelling interest. Only such strict judicial scrutiny is sufficiently protective of a person's right of privacy or personhood to avoid unwarranted governmental interference with his body, mind, and medical autonomy.
Defendant Michael Owen Perry was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering his mother, father, nephew and two cousins in a senseless criminal episode in 1983. Perry was 28 at the time of his offenses but had continued to live with his parents due to his long history of mental illness. At the age of 16, he was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and he was committed to mental institutions by his parents several times because of his psychotic symptoms. Although the record did not disclose any previous criminal conduct, he escaped from mental facilities twice and was made to sleep in a shed behind his parents' house due to his disruptive conduct.
After a hearing to determine whether Perry was competent to be executed, the trial court, in effect, found that Perry was insane but susceptible to being made able to understand the link between his crime and punishment by antipsychotic drugs. The trial court ordered the state to administer antipsychotic drugs to Perry for this purpose, without his consent if necessary. Perry did not consent to medication, but applied for review by the state supreme court, which denied writs and by the Supreme Court of the United States, which granted certiorari. After entertaining briefs and oral argument, the Supreme Court vacated the trial court's order and remanded the case for further proceedings. On remand, the trial court reinstated its order. The state supreme court granted Perry's application for a writ of certiorari and stayed the trial court's forcible medication order.
Was the state's plan to medicate and execute Perry constitutional?
The state supreme court found that the execution plan was unconstitutional because there was no compelling state interest that would be measurably furthered by the state's medicate-to-execute scheme. The court concluded that the state's plan to medicate and execute Perry would violate his bodily integrity, chemically alter his mind and will, and usurp his fundamental right to make decisions regarding his health or medical treatment. The court held that the state's proposed action was not narrowly confined to the interests of prison safety and Perry's medical interest. The court determined that the punishment was cruel because it imposed more indignity, pain, and suffering than ordinarily was necessary for the extinguishment of life, excessive because it imposed a severe penalty without furthering any of the valid social goals of punishment, and unusual because it subjected to the death penalty a class of offenders that had been exempt therefrom for centuries and added novel burdens to the punishment of the insane which would not be suffered by sane capital offenders.
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