The lawyers argued in court Tuesday prison doctors violated Jared Lee Loughner by forcibly medicating him with drugs more powerful than necessary to control his outbursts, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The three-judge 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in San Francisco is considering whether Loughner -- accused in the shooting spree in which six people died and 13 people were wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. -- should keep the right to decide how he is medicated. The hearing could determine whether Loughner is ever found competent to stand trial for the Jan. 8 attack during Giffords' meet-and-greet event.
The judges told government lawyers they should be skeptical about the prison's practice of forcing psychotropic drugs on Loughner when milder sedatives would be sufficient, the Times said.
At issue is whether Bureau of Prison policies on the handling of dangerous inmates apply to pretrial detainees such as Loughner, who was sent to a hospital in Springfield, Mo., on a federal judge's order to try to restore his mental competency.
Prison medical officials said they had to treat Loughner's underlying mental illness to prevent him from being a danger to himself or others. The defense had called for using tranquilizers or physical restraints.
In court, defense attorney Reuben Camper Cahn asked the panel to require prison officials to get federal court approval for their involuntary treatment plans.
In early July, another three-judge panel issued a temporary order against forcing the drugs on Loughner. Prison doctors resumed medicating him July 18, citing emergency circumstances.
Tuesday's panel isn't expected to rule for several weeks.