Learn More About Civil Commitment

Civil commitment is court-ordered treatment for persons who are mentally ill, chemically dependent, mentally retarded, or sexually dangerous.  The commitment process may result in the person being confined in a state-operated facility, community hospital or community treatment center, or may result in court-ordered treatment on an outpatient basis, depending on what is most appropriate.

Having Someone Committed
Start the process by calling pre-petition screening at 763-422-3283.  If the person is in the hospital and the person’s doctor believes that a civil commitment is needed, hospital staff will contact pre-petition screening. A team of mental health professionals will screen the case to determine if a commitment petition is appropriate, or if there are other less-restrictive alternatives that will meet the person’s treatment needs.  If the pre-petition screening team believes that a commitment petition is appropriate, they will prepare a written report and submit it to the County Attorney’s Office, along with a doctor’s statement supporting the commitment.

If the County Attorney’s Office determines that legal criteria are met for filing a petition, a petition will be filed, with the pre-petition screening report and examiner’s statement attached, and the matter will be set on for hearing. The County Attorney’s Office will represent the petitioner in the civil commitment proceeding.  A court-appointed attorney will represent the patient.

When Screening Does Not Support Commitment
A person seeking commitment of another person can appeal the decision of the pre-petition screening team to the County Attorney’s Office.  The County Attorney’s Office will examine the facts of the case and decide whether or not to file a petition.

This analysis can only be done after the completion of the pre-petition screening process, since a pre-petition screening is a pre-requisite to the filing of a civil commitment petition.  Because the pre-petition screeners are very knowledgeable about the legal standards for commitment, it is unusual for the County Attorney’s Office to accept a petition when the team did not recommend commitment.

Incompetent to Stand Trial
Just because a person is found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty of a crime due to mental illness or mental retardation does not mean this person is automatically committed to a treatment facility. A commitment petition must still be filed and a hearing held in civil court, before the person can be committed, and the criteria for civil commitment must still be met.  

It is therefore possible for a person to have engaged in criminal activity, be incapable of participating in the criminal proceeding, or be found not guilty due to mental illness or mental retardation, and at the same time, not be subject to commitment in a civil commitment proceeding.  This is most likely to happen in the case of crimes that do not involve physical harm to self or others. 

Rights / Privileges of Civilly Committed
Persons who are civilly committed continue to have the rights they otherwise would have had to dispose of property, sue and be sued, enter into legal contracts, vote and hold a driver’s license.  However, if a person has ever been confined in a treatment facility as a person who is mentally ill, mentally retarded or mentally ill and dangerous to the public, or has been found in criminal court to be incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of mental illness, the person is prohibited from possessing a firearm, unless the person obtains a certificate of a medical doctor or other proof that the person is no longer suffering from the disability for which the person was confined. 

Antipsychotic Medication
Because citizens have a fundamental right to refuse treatment, the court will not impose involuntary treatment with antipsychotic medication unless a civil commitment petition has been filed, or the person is under guardianship.  Before treatment can be administered against the person’s will (except in the case of emergency), the court must first decide whether the person has the capacity to make decisions regarding use of the medications.  If the court finds that the person’s mental illness interferes with the person’s being able to understand the illness, the purpose of the medication and the risks and benefits of the medication, and if the court finds that the medication is necessary and reasonable for the person’s treatment, the court can authorize the treatment facility to administer medication without the patient’s consent during the period of the civil commitment.  If the patient is willing to take the medication, but does not have the capacity to make decisions about medications, a substitute decision maker is appointed by the court to make the decision for the patient.
Commitment Criteria

Mental Illness or Mental Retardation
For a mentally ill or mentally retarded person, it must be demonstrated by recent behavior that the person’s mental illness or mental retardation poses a substantial likelihood of physical harm to self or others.  The person must have recently caused or threatened to cause physical harm to self or others, or caused significant damage to substantial property, or demonstrated failure or inability to provide necessary food, clothing, shelter or medical care.  

Failure to take psychiatric medication or exhibition of the symptoms of mental illness or mental retardation is not enough alone to petition for court-ordered treatment without the showing of danger to self or others.  

Chemical Dependency
For a chemically dependent person, it must be demonstrated by recent behavior that the person’s habitual and excessive use of alcohol, drugs, or other mind-altering substances causes the person to be incapable of self-management or management of personal affairs, and that it poses a substantial likelihood of physical harm to self or others.  The person must have recently caused or threatened to cause physical harm to self or others, or evidenced recent serious health problems related to the chemical use, or demonstrated failure to provide necessary food, clothing, shelter or medical care.

A pregnant woman can be committed if during her pregnancy she has engaged in habitual or excessive use, for a non-medical purpose, of any of the following controlled substances or their derivatives:  cocaine, heroin, phencyclidine, methamphetamine, or amphetamine.

Sexually Dangerous Persons
Pre-petition screening is not required for these petitions.  The respondents in these cases are often referred to the County Attorney’s Office for possible civil commitment by the Department of Corrections.   Most often, but not always, the persons have been serving a prison sentence for a sexual misconduct crime.  

To be committed as a sexually dangerous person or a sexual psychopathic personality, it must be proven that the person has engaged in a course of (multiple incidences of) harmful sexual conduct in the past, and that it is highly likely that without court-ordered treatment, the person will engage in harmful sexual conduct in the future.  If committed, the person is committed on an indeterminate basis to a secure, locked facility that specializes in treatment of sex offenders.