Jewish World Review March 28, 2003 / 24 Adar II, 5763

Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak

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Consumer Reports

American conscience? | "Conscience" is a curious word. It means, literally, "to know with" or "to know together" - far different than our normal sense of "conscience is whatever goes on inside my head." Dr. Charles Sell is a prisoner of conscience. But in this matter, perhaps the more important conscience is and should be ours.

So, who is this Dr. Charles Sell? He's a dentist who formerly practiced in the St. Louis area and is currently a non-violent federal prisoner in Springfield, Missouri. He's already spent more than five years in prison than he would be liable for, even if he were convicted of the government's Medicaid Fraud accusations.

We're writing about him and his case because his treatment by the federal government has been - and continues to be - unconscionable.

Let's focus on the federal government's claim that Dr. Sell is "incompetent" to stand trial. The government wants to make him competent by forcefully giving him powerful medicine. Dr. Sell doesn't want to be medicated; he's had bad reactions to similar drugs in the past. Further, one of the medicines that the government might want to use on him is an experimental medicine which could kill him. The US Supreme Court heard his appeal on this question on March 3.

Dr. Sell has been in prisons for more than 64 months, including 20 months in solitary confinement. As Justice Bye on the US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit noted, if Dr. Sell was convicted of the pertinent Medicaid Fraud charges against him, the longest sentence he would be given under the United States Sentencing Guidelines would be 41 months. In other words, Dr. Sell has already been in prison 23 months longer than he could be sentenced for, if convicted on all the fraud charges.

Due to legal expenses, he's already lost his practice, his office, his home and his savings. What more does the government want? His mind?

The level of "competence" usually required for defendants to stand trial in federal court is very low. In the eyes of federal courts, a defendant is competent to stand trial if he doesn't talk to invisible people. Dr. Sell earned a perfect score on a 30 question true/false quiz used in a prison Competency Restoration Group.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that "involuntary medication is the only way for the government to achieve its interest in fairly trying Sell." However, an amicus brief filed by The Association of American Physicians & Surgeons, Inc., and Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund notes the "Government's interest in drugging Dr. Sell for trial can be no greater than its interest in punishing him further, which is non-existent."

After more than five years in prison, the federal government has not yet set a trial date. Other than to mention, we're not going to address Dr. Sell's right to a "speedy trial" as required by the sixth amendment to our Constitution. Nor will we look in detail at several other issues, such as an episode in prison, when he spat in the face of a magistrate after Dr. Sell was beaten by an FBI agent and denied his right to have his attorney present.

Another issue is an accusation that Dr. Sell was suffering from delusions because he thought there was a government effort to cover up his personal knowledge of the government's culpability in the 1993 deaths at the Branch Davidian land near Waco, Texas. As an Army Reservist called up to serve as an expert in forensic dentistry, Dr. Sell was on the scene the day of the tragic fire. Other issues include accusations of Dr. Sell using politically-incorrect swear words.

We find forcing medication with life-threatening drugs on a presumed-innocent prisoner another form of cruel and unusual punishment.

We find it outrageous the Dr. Sell continues to be held in prison on the basis of unproven allegations that he committed a non-violent crime against complex Medicaid regulations.

Why is the federal government wasting our resources, including government lawyers' time and our taxpayers' money, instead of calling it quits and letting Dr. Sell try to rebuild his life?

In the old days, we might worry that the government is just trying to prove that it's the biggest bully on the block. But today we do worry "Who's next?" Dr. Sell should be set free immediately to show that we are still a nation of conscience -- even in wartime!

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Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple award winning writer who comments on medical- legal issues. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Both JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists. Comment by clicking here.


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