PHOENIX – Federal prison officials must temporarily stop forcing anti-psychotic drugs on the man accused of wounding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a deadly shooting rampage, an appeals court has ruled.
The brief order from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals came late Friday after Jared Lee Loughner's attorneys appealed a ruling allowing his medication to continue.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns in San Diego ruled last week that he didn't want to second-guess doctors at the federal prison in Springfield, Mo., who determined Loughner was a danger and needed to be medicated.
Loughner has been at the facility since May 28 after Burns concluded he was mentally unfit to help in his legal defense. His attorneys say he has been forcibly medicated since June 21.
The 22-year-old college dropout has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges in the Jan. 8 rampage that killed six and wounded 13, including Giffords.
The appeals court temporary halted Loughner's forcible medication while it considers arguments from prosecutors and the defense on whether it should be allowed. It set a tight schedule for legal briefings, ordering federal prosecutors to file a reply by 5 p.m. Tuesday and Loughner's team to file a response by close of business Wednesday.
A message left for lead Loughner attorney Judy Clarke wasn't immediately returned Tuesday. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix had no immediate comment.
Prosecutors have said in court papers that Loughner spit on his own attorney, lunged at her and had to be restrained by prison staff April 4. They also mentioned an outburst during a March 28 interview with a mental health expert in which Loughner became enraged, cursed at her and threw a plastic chair at her twice.
Burns rejected defense claims at a hearing last Wednesday that the prison forced the medications in an effort to make Loughner competent to stand trial. He said the key question was whether Loughner posed a danger and that prison doctors were best qualified to answer that.
Burns was appointed to the case after all federal judges in Arizona recused themselves.
Mental health experts have determined Loughner suffers from schizophrenia and will try to make him psychologically fit to stand trial. He will spend up to four months at the facility.
If Loughner is later determined to be competent enough for trial, the court proceedings will resume. If he isn't deemed competent at the end of his treatment, Loughner's stay at the facility can be extended.
Loughner's lawyers haven't said whether they intend to present an insanity defense, but they have noted in court filings that his mental condition likely will be a central issue at trial.