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WHAT IS AN INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT?
A procedure whereby a person is involuntarily placed in the custody of the State Department of Mental Health for treatment.
WHAT ELEMENTS MUST BE PRESENT IN ORDER TO COMMIT A PERSON?
Clear, unequivocal and convincing evidence that:
-the respondent is mentally ill; and
-because of the mental illness the person poses a real and present threat of substantial harm to himself or to others; and
-respondent will continue to experience mental distress and deterioration of ability to function independently if not treated; and
-respondent is unable to make a rational decision regarding treatment.
-Under Lynch v. Baxley, another element that is required is evidence that a person has actually been dangerous in the recent past and that such danger was manifested by an overt act, attempt or threat to do substantial harm to himself or another.
-treatment is available for the person’s mental illness or confinement is necessary to prevent the person from causing substantial harm to himself or to others; and
-commitment is the least restrictive alternative available.
WHO MAY FILE A PETITION TO INITIATE AN INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT PROCEEDING?
Any person may seek to have another person committed by filing a petition with the Probate Court in accordance with Section 22-52-1.2 of the Code of Alabama.
WHERE IS THE PETITION FILED?
In the probate court in the county where the respondent is located.
MUST THE COURT APPOINT ATTORNEYS TO REPRESENT THE PARTIES INVOLVED IN AN INVOLUNTARY COMMITMENT PROCEEDING?
-For the respondent: yes, if such person lacks the mental ability to secure the services of an attorney or if such person lacks the funds to employ an attorney.
-For the petitioner: yes, the court must appoint an attorney to advocate the petition to commit. The petitioner may employ an attorney on their own to appear in lieu of the appointed attorney.
WHAT ARE THE RESULTS OF THE HEARING?
If commitment is granted, the order shall be entered for outpatient treatment or inpatient treatment. The least restrictive alternative necessary and available for the treatment of the respondent’s mental illness shall be ordered. Inpatient treatment may be ordered at a state mental health facility or a designated mental health facility. Outpatient treatment may be ordered at a designated mental health facility if said facility consents to treat the respondent on an outpatient basis.
Due to the complexity of laws and procedures of the Probate Court, we strongly suggest that you seek the advice of a licensed attorney. The Probate Judge, Chief Clerk and Staff of the Probate Court are prohibited by law to offer any legal advice.
Prepared by the Alabama Law Institute for Alabama Probate Judges’ Association