Involuntary medication of patients who are incompetent to stand trial: a descriptive study of the New York experience with judicial review

Bull Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 1993;21(4):529-45.


The United States Supreme Court, in the recent case of Riggins v. Nevada, extended its examination of the issue of involuntary treatment with antipsychotic medication to the mentally disabled facing criminal trial. A criminal defendant who is "incompetent to stand trial" cannot be subjected to trial. Many such persons are committed to hospitals to be treated and rendered "competent to stand trial," and some of these patients refuse medication. The involuntary administration of antipsychotic medication to such patients raises important and unique medical and moral questions. This highly controversial issue has been understudied. We report here on the first study of persons committed to a state hospital in order to be rendered competent to stand trial who refuse antipsychotic medication and for whom judicial review is requested to allow involuntary treatment, and in which results are given specifically for these subjects. This is a retrospective study to determine the characteristics of such cases and aspects of their outcome in the hospital. We reviewed all cases (N = 68) of application for treatment over objection, filed since the inception in 1986 of the new laws and regulations requiring judicial review through 1990, among patients in the two facilities that receive over 95 percent of all indicted felony offenders in New York State who are incompetent to stand trial. Tentative conclusions are formulated based on the findings that, according to clinical reports, no patient gave only rational reasons for medication refusal, clinicians always indicated the clinical appropriateness of the proposed treatment, judges apparently never found that someone who is "incompetent to stand trial" is "competent" to refuse medication, 93 percent of patients treated involuntarily had a good clinical response, and 87 percent of patients treated involuntarily were restored to "competency to stand trial."

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antipsychotic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects
  • Commitment of Mentally Ill / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insanity Defense*
  • Judicial Role*
  • Male
  • Mentally Ill Persons*
  • New York
  • Patient Advocacy / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Supreme Court Decisions
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Treatment Refusal


  • Antipsychotic Agents