First off this article is an opinion column regarding my own personal opinions surrounding this controversial topic. I have molded my opinion off of falling clutch to involuntary judicial commitment not once, but twice at the hands of state actors and elected officials whom exploited the loopholes in Mississippi’s mental health laws and used it as a way of locking me up/fencing me in when there was no crime committed for them to have me arrested on. The laws around mental health and the requirements to judicially commit vary from state to state, however there exists strong federal case law which is geared towards preventing exactly that which happened to me more recently here in the State of Mississippi.
Specifically, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1975 (O’Connor v. Donaldson) that “A State cannot constitutionally confine… a non-dangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by himself or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends…” This decision established the standard that a finding of “mental illness” alone is not enough to confine a patient against their will; they must also be either:
- A danger to the public (invoking the state’s inherent police powers); or
- A danger to themselves (the legal doctrine of “parens patriae“).
Civil commitment laws in most states authorize the following kinds of involuntary confinement and treatment:
- Emergency Hospitalization – Often referred to as a “psychiatric hold,” this typically involves a limited confinement in response to a crisis for evaluation purposes.
- Inpatient Civil Commitment – This is a longer-term confinement, typically in effect until the court determines the patient no longer meets civil commitment criteria.
- Outpatient Civil Commitment – Often referred to as “mandated” or “assisted” outpatient treatment (AOT), this involves court-ordered mental health treatment while the patient continues to live in the community (a handful of states haven’t adopted this option, including Maryland and Massachusetts).
A paradox easily forms when comparing the legislature of the state (Mississippi) and the landmark ruling in O’Connor v Donaldson in which that fine line measured on a state level encroaches upon the substantive due process rights of its citizens guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment.
The US Supreme Court was both spot on and crystal clear in their ruling when they decided that a State cannot constitutionally confine… a non-dangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by himself or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends. Lafayette County and the State of Mississippi have more recently demonstrated how easy a state or local county Government can exploit mental health laws in order to attempt to fix (or stage) a more favorable outcome. Could you imagine if O’Connor vs Donaldson hadn’t of occurred or if the justices didn’t rule the way they did?? We’d all be in trouble and seemingly always be in the crosshairs of oppressive government.
It’s for the reasons of what happened to me in December and again in February that I decided a couple of things in particular need to happen with a quickness, of those being:
- There is not nearly enough case law on involuntary commitment, and it is badly needed for a more uniform process across the board garnering federal approval
- The laws surrounding involuntary commitment MUST be tightened up significantly, particularly in Mississippi, and the individual must meet a high, strict standard of someone whom requires mental health treatment through involuntary commitment
- A watchdog agency should always oversee the involuntary commitment process to ensure no malice or ill intent causes such commitment so as not to strip and deprive a functioning American citizen of his or her liberty and other due process rights
- I believe that a trial by an impartial jury should always be preserved and should always be allowed on involuntary commitment proceedings if demanded by the respondent
And Last but certainly not Least, the laws and procedures surrounding involuntary judicial commitment MUST be adhered to fully by the court and any official tasked with any involved role. The worst thing anyone can do is to retaliate to any complaint by using involuntary judicial commitment, or using it in ways to suppress any type of information and basic rights of any citizen.