Anniversary of Perry v. Louisiana: Prohibiting Forced Medication to Execute the Insane

Today marks the 27th Anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case of Perry v. Louisiana[1]. Perry stands for the proposition that you cannot forcibly medicate an individual so they are competent to be executed.


The Case[2]

The case behind Perry is quite bizarre. Only the evening of July 17th, 1983 Michael Owen Perry entered the unlocked home of his cousins Randy Perry, and Brian LeBlane. Mr. Perry shot and killed both his cousins, before leaving the home, crossing the street and breaking into his parents’ home. Mr. Perry waited for his parents to return, and when they returned home along with their two-year-old grandson Anthony Bonin, Mr. Perry shot and killed all three. Mr. Perry then stole $3,000 worth of cash and fled. Oddly, police found a list of intended victims at the crime scene, with the list including Justice Sandra Day O’Conner[3] and musician Olivia Newton-John[4]. Neighbors and family members said that Mr. Perry had always been unstable, and he was obsessed with Oliva Newton-John’s performance in the movie Grease[5]. Two weeks later, Mr. Perry was arrested in Washington D.C just miles away from the Supreme Court[6].

Mr. Perry was returned to Louisiana to stand trial. Two psychiatric reports were done to assess Mr. Perry’s mental competency to stand trial. Mr. Perry had a long and well documented record of mental health problems. Mr. Perry had been diagnosed at 16 with paranoid schizophrenia, and was committed to a mental institution for a period two years later.  Further, when Mr. Perry was arrested in his hotel room in Washington D.C, police found that he had filled his room with multiple television sets playing static on which he had painted eyeballs, and the names of his victims. The first psychological report recommend medication. Some months later the second report recommend that he stand trial.

In October 1984, Mr. Perry went on trial. Mr. Perry, ignoring his counsels advise, withdrew his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, and instead plead not guilty. Mr. Perry was convicted, and sentenced to death because his actions were calculated to result in the death of more than one person, and the offense was especially heinous. After sentencing, Mr. Perry was sent to prison were; because of his bizarre behavior and obvious psychological problems, he received treatment willingly. After receiving medical treatment, Mr. Perry regained his normal cognitive functioning. However, on March 14th, 1988, Mr. Perry’s lawyer sent a request to the prison to terminate the medical treatment.

On direct appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court, Mr. Perry’s conviction was affirmed. The court recommended that Mr. Perry’s lawyer apply to the trial court for a determination of Mr. Perry’s sanity and competence to be executed, holding that the court would not impose the death penalty on an inmate who, subsequent to his conviction, has become insane. Mr. Perry’s lawyer applied and the court determined that Mr. Perry suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. However, following reports from the prison officials, the court determined they needed a second evaluation as Mr. Perry’s condition had changed. The second report determined that Mr. Perry was competent to be executed, so long as he was on medication. The court then ordered that Mr. Perry be forcibly medicated. This ordered triggered an automatic appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. The Louisiana Supreme Court denied the writ and appeal, but the Supreme Court granted cert.

The Argument[7]

The Supreme Court heard arguments on October 2nd, 1990. Mr. Perry argued that forcible medication to make him competent to execute constituted a violation of his eighth amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. Further, Mr. Perry argued that forcing a doctor to give him medication so that he could be executed would violate the physicians Hippocratic oath.

The State argued that Mr. Perry’s eight amendment rights were not violated because the Supreme Court had already held that forced medication was constitutional in newly decided Washington v. Harper[8] and Mr. Perry was willfully refusing treatment that would otherwise render him competent to avoid execution.

The Decision

The Court rendered its judgment on November 13th, 1990. In a per curium opinion, the Court did not issue a proper opinion, but vacated the trial courts ruling, and remanded the case to the Louisiana Supreme Court for further determination consistent with Washington[9]. Justice David Souter[10] signaled that he took no part in the consideration of this case as he had not taken office until October 3rd, 1990.


On remand, the trial court ruled against the forced medication as Mr. Perry’s treatment was not for purposes of treatment, but for punishment. The trial court found the forced medication would violate the eight amendment and the right to privacy in the Louisiana constitution. Mr. Perry remains on death row in Angola State penitentiary, but he cannot be executed so long as he refuses medication. Mr. Perry would later become a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit[11] against the State of Louisiana for the extreme use of solitary confinement. Mr. Perry has been in solitary confinement for 31 years. With Experienced Legal Representation, you can ensure your eight amendment rights are protected.

Written by Hunter J. White

[1] Perry v. Louisiana, 498 U.S. 38, 111 S. Ct. 449 (1990)







[8] Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210, 110 S. Ct. 1028 (1990)