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Top 5 Legal Issues from Jared Lee Loughner's Prosecution

By Robyn Hagan Cain on August 07, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Jared Lee Loughner has pleaded guilty to the Arizona shooting rampage that injured 13 and left 6 people dead, reports The Wall Street Journal. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Loughner will get life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Loughner’s case has been in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals repeatedly since the January 2011 shooting, as the court questioned whether Loughner should be forcibly medicated to become competent to stand trial. Here are the top 5 legal issues that came up in the Loughner case.

  1. Right to Remain Silent. Upon capture, Jared Lee Loughner invoked his right to remain silent by not saying a word. But any utterance -- other than a statement invoking his Miranda rights -- could have been considered a waiver of his rights under the Supreme Court's 2010 Berghuis v. Thompkins decision.
  2. Indictment. Last year, a federal grand jury issued a 49-count indictment against Loughner. One interesting detail in the indictment: Murder and attempted murder are characterized differently depending on whether the victim was a federal employee or a regular civilian.
  3. Competence. In May 2011, a trial court found Loughner incompetent to stand trial. A Bureau of Prisons medical facility similarly found Loughner incompetent following five weeks of mental health evaluations, and began a forced medication regimen.
  4. Forced Medication. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in March that the Bureau of Prisons could continue to forcibly medicate Loughner with antipsychotic drugs. Judge Marsha Berzon, the lone dissenter on the panel, questioned whether forcibly medicating Loughner might infringe on his rights to a fair trial. Berzon wrote, "Assuming Loughner will put on an insanity defense, manifestations in court of how his mind works may well be his own best evidence."
  5. Traffic Stops. A wildlife officer stopped Jared Loughner for running a red light hours before his shooting spree, but let him off with a warning because there were no outstanding warrants on Loughner or the vehicle. Could the officer have prevented the shootings by detaining Loughner? Perhaps, but he didn't have probable cause to arrest Loughner.

One lingering issue in the Jared Lee Loughner prosecution is appealability. While many plea agreements include a waiver of appeal, defendants who are unhappy with their outcomes often try to appeal their sentences or convictions.

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