HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The state Supreme Court ruled on Friday that possession of more than 8 pounds of marijuana is a serious enough charge to warrant forcing medication on a defendant so he is competent to stand trial.
The high court’s 7-0 ruling came in the case of 30-year-old Christopher Seekins of Torrington, who authorities say has been ruled incompetent to stand trial because he refuses to take psychotropic medication for bipolar disorder. Justices upheld a lower court judge’s order to medicate Seekins against his will.
State law says a defendant can be involuntarily medicated if the crime is serious enough and there is an overriding law enforcement interest in determining whether the defendant is innocent or guilty. Seekins argued that possessing marijuana isn’t a serious crime.
Seekins’ lawyer, Richard Marquette, declined to comment on the ruling Friday through an employee at his Hamden law firm.
Seekins also made headlines in 2005 when he painted large pictures of marijuana leaves on his Winsted home with the word “hemp” beneath them after being charged with growing marijuana, saying it was in support of legalizing the drug. He later agreed in a plea bargain to remove or cover up the paintings, which caused a ruckus in town because they were visible from busy Main Street.
Justice Richard Palmer, a former prosecutor, wrote in the Supreme Court’s ruling that the basis for determining whether a crime is serious is the severity of the sentence it potentially carries. Palmer noted that Seekins faces a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years in prison if convicted of just three of the many charges he faces.
Palmer also wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that forcing medication on a defendant to make him competent to stand trial is constitutional in certain circumstances. Federal Circuit Courts have also looked at potential penalties when determining whether crimes are serious, he wrote.
“The defendant is not charged merely with possession of marijuana; he is charged with manufacturing the drug and possessing it with the intent to sell,” Palmer wrote. “In light of the quantity of marijuana involved … we cannot conclude, as a matter of law, that the charges against the defendant are not serious.”
Palmer also noted a U.S. Supreme Court decision saying society as a whole is a victim when illegal drugs are being distributed in its communities.
Seekins, who has been confined to a state psychiatric hospital in Middletown, had argued that the marijuana in the criminal case was for recreational purposes, not for sale or distribution.
In the 2005 marijuana case, Seekins pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years probation in 2006.
In September 2007, Seekins’ probation officer and Torrington police went to his home unannounced and said they found 8.4 pounds of pot, 50 marijuana plants, a digital scale and other pot paraphernalia.
He was later ruled incompetent to stand trial because of the effects of his bipolar disorder, but social workers testified that Seekins likely would be able to understand the charges against him and assist in his defense if he was treated with medication. Officials said Seekins refused to take medication.
It’s not clear when state officials plan to begin forcing medication on Seekins. His drug case is expected to go back before a Bantam Superior Court judge on Tuesday.