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Miller v. North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

December 20, 2019

Kevin Miller, Appellant,
v.
North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the Circuit Court for Alachua County. Denise Ferrero, Judge.

          Andy Thomas, Public Defender, and Megan Long, Assistant Public Defender, Tallahassee, for Appellant.

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, and Timothy L. Newhall, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellee.

          ROWE, J.

         Kevin Miller, a forensic client committed to a state mental health facility, appeals an order authorizing the Florida Department of Children and Families to involuntarily medicate him.[*] Because the trial court complied with the requirements of section 916.107(3), Florida Statutes (2018) when it authorized the treatment, we affirm.

         Facts

         Miller was diagnosed with Unspecified Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorder. The trial court found Miller incompetent to proceed to trial on the criminal charges against him and committed him to the custody of DCF. A few weeks after his commitment, the administrator of the commitment facility petitioned the court under section 916.107(3) for an order authorizing the involuntary treatment of Miller, including the administration of psychotropic medications. The administrator asserted that Miller was unable to give express and informed consent for his treatment.

         The court held an evidentiary hearing. Miller refused to appear. Leigh Hassell-Walker, Miller's counselor, testified at the hearing. She explained that Miller refused to take his medication, to participate in any offered therapies, and to answer questions about his competency. She asserted that Miller refused to admit that he had a mental illness.

         Dr. John Johnston, an expert in forensic psychiatry, also testified. He diagnosed Miller with Unspecified Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorder. He asserted that Miller refused to take his medication even though medication was the only way to restore his competency. Dr. Johnston opined that Miller's prognosis was better with medication and poor without it. He sought permission to administer three antipsychotics, two mood stabilizers, and several medications for side effects or discomfort so he would have options if one drug failed. He emphasized that he would not administer all the medications at the same time. Dr. Johnston agreed that Miller had not been a danger to himself or others during his stay at the facility.

         The hearing concluded, and the court granted the petition for involuntary treatment. The court found that Miller was unable to and refused to give express and informed consent to his treatment. And that Miller refused to participate in therapeutic options offered to restore his competency. Because Miller had been diagnosed with Unspecified Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorder, the court found that treatment with psychotropic medication was essential to Miller's care.

         In support of its order, the court made these findings required by section 916.107(3): (1) Miller preferred not to take medication as demonstrated by his refusal to attend the proceedings and his refusal to take medications under any circumstances; (2) Miller suffered from a medical condition that would require close monitoring if a certain psychotropic medication was administered; (3) Miller's prognosis without treatment was poor, and his competence could not be restored without medication; and (4) Miller's prognosis would be better with drug treatment than without it.

         After the court found that the evidence supported Miller's involuntary treatment under the statute, Miller's counsel argued that the trial court was also required to determine whether Miller's involuntary medication was constitutionally permissible by considering the factors provided in Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003). The court found that it need not consider those factors because Sell did not apply when the court determined that (1) the forensic client was dangerous or (2) the client's refusal to take medication placed his health at grave risk.

         The court found that Miller was a danger to himself or others. The court observed that Florida's statutory framework for civil commitment required a preliminary finding by the committing court that the defendant was dangerous to himself or others and that no less restrictive alternative was appropriate. The court believed that the findings of the original order were controlling and that it lacked authority ...


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